LONDON (AP) — 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.
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 (32 kilometers) west of London that is already popular with international tourists.
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 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.
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 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 counter-productive," 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.
Harry and Markle 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.