A truck driver who undertakes a weekly mission to feed homeless people in his area has been told to stop because its goes against coronavirus rules.
Matt Pyne has been holding a pop-up soup kitchen every Wednesday on Queens Square in Wrexham for the past three years, but now council officials are clamping down and warning him he faces a hefty fine of up to £10k if he carries on.
“First of all they told me I couldn’t have more then 30 people together outdoors at the same time because of current coronavirus regulations,” said Matt, who, along with a small group of friends, hands out supplies donated to him by local people and businesses.
“But I told them that was rubbish because, while I might see that many people during the course of one visit, those numbers are generally spread throughout the evening – never all at the same time.”
Matt added that he then got told the reason officials wanted him to pack it in is because there are already council-run facilities and provisions in place to look after rough sleepers in the borough.
“If that were true though, then surely I wouldn’t see the steady stream of hungry people who come to me each Wednesday night? All of which says to me the council’s message isn’t getting to the ears of those who need to hear it most.”
The 43-year-old from Flint, who regularly feeds homeless people aged from 14 to 60, says he first began doing what he could to help others after going to pick a skip up from around the back of a local chip shop.
“There was a young lad sat round the back in a sleeping bag, bitterly cold, trying to shelter behind some bins.
“I had no money on me and had to drive away knowing I hadn’t done anything to help that lad out – I couldn’t live with that feeling and decided to do whatever I could from that point on.”
Putting out a request for donations on Facebook he found himself inundated with everything from tins of food to clothes and toiletries, and each week since he’s been hitting the streets to hand them out.
“There’s loads of empty shops in Wrexham town centre and I’ve said to the council to loan me one of those for a couple of hours a week – they can even come along to monitor me if they like,” said Matt.
“But they told me they can’t do that because they can’t be seen to be condoning what I’m doing.
“However, I’m not going to stop helping people, whatever they try threatening me with.”
Wrexham Council’s lead member for housing, Cllr David Griffiths, said: “During the Covid 19 pandemic Welsh Government directed all councils to ensure that vulnerable rough sleepers are able to leave the streets and be placed into supported self-contained accommodation.
“Wrexham has worked in partnership with all its recognised providers to ensure that this has happened and that vulnerable people are supported by a multi-agency approach.
“There should therefore be no requirement for people to have to access food on the street which can be a risk to the spread of virus.
“Food or the facilities to prepare food is and continues to be available for all our supported residents should they require it where they are placed.
“We recognise and appreciate the help and assistance of volunteers but have respectfully requested that they cease this activity and contact the Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham to discuss how they can participate in the new strategy going forward.”