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Research sheds light on soup runs

Research by LSE Housing into the impact and effectiveness of soup runs in Westminster has been released today to shed light on the controversial practice of giving free food to homeless and disadvantaged people in the borough.

Soup runs in central London was funded by Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, Westminster City Council and Communities and Local Government.

The research found people using soup runs did so mainly to fulfill the basic needs of food, drink and clothing, but also for social contact, a daily routine and support out of hours when other services are closed. LSE researchers found that it was not just rough sleepers that used the service, but vulnerably housed and excluded people would also regularly come.

Most soup run providers were committed to providing food on the streets for as long as it was needed. They saw themselves as offering not only food, but companionship and social contact in a more informal way than professional services do. The research shows that providers' motivation was primarily faith-based.

Residents living close to soup runs, however, reported several concerns about the practice, citing anti-social behaviour, the creation of 'no-go' areas and litter. They suggested that soup runs be moved from residential areas, or an alternative found to handing out free food on the streets.

The research also found that more coordination between soup runs would minimise duplication and over provision.

The research makes several recommendations to improve provision for needy and vulnerable people on the streets of Westminster:

  • Better coordination between soup runs to reduce duplication of work and overprovision, as well as between soup runs, outreach services and the police
  • A working group to discuss and mediate problems around emergency provision and drive forward recommendations
  • Good practice models such as the Simon Community Street Café to be used more widely
  • A more rapid response to people newly arrived on the streets to prevent them becoming entrenched in the lifestyle
  •  Increased support for people who were once homeless but now housed, and other isolated individuals
  • Urgent action to deal with complex needs of destitute migrants with no recourse to public funds
  • Dispersal of current provision away from central London and increased day centre provision, particularly during evenings and weekends and free food based in churches that already open their doors to homeless people

Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy at LSE and one of the authors of the report, said: 'Soup runs in Westminster are committed to helping anybody who needs them. Society has a broad responsibility to find a better solution for vulnerable people. All agencies involved, including the voluntary sector, church groups and local and central government, need to work together to come up with alternatives.'

Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: 'I warmly welcome the publication of this research. We are long overdue an independent and objective look at the contentious issue of soup runs in Westminster. We now have the hard evidence we need to make soup runs work better for those who rely on them and we would encourage all who are involved to read this report and make the changes needed.'

Cllr Philippa Roe, Westminster Council's cabinet member for housing, said: 'We broadly welcome the findings of this report as we have long argued that the over provision of soup runs in central London needs to be addressed.  Uncoordinated large scale soup run operations are damaging the health and life chances of rough sleepers and we want to see them effectively coordinated with the many services offered by councils, charities and voluntary groups.

'Every year we help around 1,000 people off the streets and we will continue to work hard offering a fast and effective response to anyone who ends up sleeping rough.'

To read the full report see Soup Runs in Central London:'the right help in the right place at the right time?' [PDF].