Watch CBSN Live

Controversy ahead of royal wedding over possible homeless crackdown

Prince Harry wedding plans

LONDON -- A political storm is brewing ahead of Prince Harry's and Meghan Markle's May 19 wedding over whether to crack down on homeless people and beggars in the well-to-do English town of Windsor, where the wedding is taking place. Borough council leader Simon Dudley kicked off the controversy by tweeting over the Christmas holidays about the need to clean up Windsor's streets. He then wrote to police and Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May suggesting that action be taken to reduce the presence of beggars and the homeless.

Dudley referred to an "epidemic" of homelessness and vagrancy in Windsor and suggested many of those begging in the town are not really homeless. He said the situation presents a beautiful town in an unfavorable light.

The prime minister said Thursday she does not agree with Dudley's call for police action, emphasizing that local councils like the one Dudley heads must act to help the homeless.

"I think it is important that councils work hard to ensure that they are providing accommodation for those people who are homeless," said May. 

The Changing of the Guard takes place outside Windsor Castle, west of London, on December 8, 2017. Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Homeless charities reacted angrily Thursday to his suggestion that homelessness should be treated as a police matter so Windsor can make a positive impression on visitors during the royal nuptials. They also rejected the assertion that Windsor's homeless were living on the streets by choice. 

Greg Beales, a spokesman for the group Shelter, said people sleeping on the streets are in desperate need of help, particularly in winter when the weather can be dangerously cold.

"Stigmatizing or punishing them is totally counterproductive," he said.

Murphy James of the Windsor Homeless Project called Dudley's views offensive.

"It's absolutely abhorrent that anybody has got these views in this day and age, especially a lead councilor of the borough," he said. 

James, 35, who lives on the streets of Windsor, said, "It is not our choice to be homeless."

"Everyone has their own reasons, everyone has their own story," he said, BBC News reported.

"[Mr Dudley] should come out and talk to the homeless and find out what their stories are before he makes those kind of accusations," he added.

The wedding will be held at Windsor Castle, the town's most famous landmark and a favored residence of Queen Elizabeth II. It is expected to draw thousands of extra visitors to the picturesque riverside town 20 miles west of London that is already popular with international tourists. 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to be married this spring

The couple will be wed on the closed-off castle grounds but have said they want the public to be involved to some degree. Harry has supported a number of charity events to help the homeless.