Is homelessness a matter of choice?

Ahead of the royal wedding in May, the Conservative leader of Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council, urged Thames Valley police to use their powers to clear the area around Windsor Castle of its expanding population of homeless people.

Simon Dudley’s letter to the police raised the perennial issue of the extent to which homelessness is a matter of choice. He argued that:

A large number of adults that are begging in Windsor are not in fact homeless, and if they are homeless they are choosing to reject all support services … In the case of homelessness amongst this group, it is therefore a voluntary choice.

Dudley’s comments were criticised by charities working with the homeless, and by the prime minister, Theresa May, who is MP for Maidenhead.

So how valid is the claim that some homeless people prefer a life on the streets, sleeping rough and begging, to some form of sheltered alternative?

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