BY OWEN SHEPARD
Local Democracy Reporter
The presence of rough sleepers camped on a central London housing estate has divided opinion between the neighbours.
Some on the Hallfield Estate, a set of council blocks in Bayswater, accuse them of urinating in lifts, littering and singing in the middle of the night.
Westminster council last week wrote to every resident advising them to report antisocial behaviour to the police, and stating that the St Mungo’s charity could be called in to help.
Other residents living directly opposite the six rough sleepers’ hang-out say they’re harmless, and that police should instead focus on violent gangs.
“Some people think [the group of rough sleepers] are a family with kids,” said Mouk Ali, 43, who lives with her five children in Newbury House.
“For me, they don’t make any trouble for the people who live here. They will just sit in the garden and eat something and find a place to sleep. You can understand that, especially if it’s rainy and cold.
“I worry more about gangs of youths that have knives and guns. That’s what the police should be worrying about.”
Ms Ali’s neighbour, Thiago Spini – a waiter – said: “It’s been going on for over a year. They sometimes sleep by the stairs which is a nuisance because I have to walk around them when I come in late.
“There’s one guy who drinks at night and you can hear him screaming.
“They also used to raid the clothes bin.”
The 38-year-old added: “I don’t think there’s anything the police can do because they’re not breaking the law.
“I sympathise with them a bit. But they beg during the day and camp here. They are not contributing anything.”
Teaching assistant Naz Saquib, 54, said: “You could hear them singing very loudly at 1am last night.
“We called the police and no one came. Other people call them as well.”
Pointing to the garden in front of Newbury House, she said: “This is their place where they always sit and leave rubbish, and hide their bedding in the hedges.
“They urinate inside the lift sometimes so we can’t use it in the morning.”
A male resident said anonymously: “I don’t see them as causing much trouble to us compared to what being homeless must be like.”
The group of rough sleepers was approached for comment but they did not wish to speak.
A Westminster council spokeswoman said: “There have been issues with a group of rough sleepers who have persistently been engaging in antisocial behaviour, including reports of drinking, drug taking and leaving rubbish.
This isn’t fair on our residents living on the estate, but we do need local people to report these incidents to police so they can be properly investigated and dealt with.
“Where rough sleepers ask for the council’s help, we always give it and genuine rough sleepers can be helped off the street into hostels and other accommodation. But we’re dealing in this case with a group who don’t want to engage with us.”
In June, City Hall released new data that revealed the number of people living on central London’s streets.
Westminster’s rough sleeping population rose by 16 per cent to 2,512 between 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Although this was below the 2015/16 figure of 2,857, a report also said 14 per cent of rough sleepers had been living in the borough for two years or more.
And 22 per cent of the borough’s rough sleepers had travelled from abroad, according to the figures compiled by City Hall and the Combined Homelessness and Information Network