Harrogate looks set to adopt a new initiative to tackle street begging with contactless donations which has been pioneered successfully by other places round the UK such as Cambridge.
Since Street Aid was set up in Cambridge in 2016, more than £50,000 has been raised to help the homeless and visible begging in the the university city has declined.
Tomorrow, Tuesday will see Mike Chambers, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing and safer communities, asked to approve the formation of Harrogate Street Aid.
The fresh approach to the alarming rise in visible begging in Harrogate would include the installation of a contactless ‘tap terminal’ in the town centre where people could donate a suggested £3 to the homeless via a debit or credit card rather than handing over cash to beggars.
Individual homeless people who have strong personal connections to the Harrogate district would be able to apply for a grant of up to £500 from a central fund to get - or keep them off - the streets.
The move follows the completion of a detailed report by a working group set up by Harrogate Borough Council involving all of Harrogate’s main organisations who currently help the homeless.
The council’s Community Safety Officer Helen Richardson said the aim of Harrogate Street Aid was to change people’s lives for the better, not to encourage them to live on the streets.
She said: “Members of the Harrogate public may feel that giving £5 or £10 in cash to individual street beggars is helping them but it isn’t.
“It’s terrible to see begging but with the amount of support available in Harrogate, there is no need to beg on the streets.
“We want to make big changes to people’s lives.”
The anti-social behaviour associated with the growth of visible street begging on Oxford Street and Cambridge Road, in particular, has alarmed small businesses in the town centre.
Graham Jack, the owner of G23, designer menswear shop, said public attitudes to begging were changing after outbreaks of trouble which had alarmed friends, shoppers and fellow businesses.
Mr Jack said: “Public sympathy is starting to wear thin. It’s the same 10 or so beggars every time who hang around getting drunk, fighting with each other and shouting at people walking past.
"They turn up outside McDonalds or congregate at the bench near Wesley Chapel at 9am or 10am each day, do a bit of begging, then come back in the afternoon already drunk or high, maybe do a bit more begging and then go home.
“Some of my friends no longer walk down the street with their kids. It scares old people and visitors, too.”
Part of the aim of Harrogate Street Aid will be to persuade the public that begging has become a lucrative source of income for people who the authorities are already aware of and have offered support to.
Harrogate Street Aid is set to be a joint-initiative involving the council, North Yorkshire Police and Harrogate Homeless Project.
Liz Hancock, chief executive of Harrogate Homeless Project charity, said she was delighted to support Harrogate Street Aid as a way of supplementing the wide range of services it offered - which included a 16-bed hostel on Bower Street and day service, Springboard, which provides support and assistance to homeless or vulnerably housed people.
She said: “We are pleased to be involved in developing the new initiative to reduce street begging in the Harrogate District as we believe this scheme will help people away from the streets and the need to beg for money, whilst raising public awareness that there is help available to anyone in need.
“We are supporting the Street Aid scheme because we recognise that people who beg, for whatever reason, are vulnerable and in need, but we also know that giving cash directly to people begging can be a barrier to them accessing true support towards lasting change.”
Helen Richardson added: “Harrogate Homeless Project and the council’s housing officers already engage with street beggars and rough sleepers.
“We already know who they are. We assess their situation and offer them help.
“But not everyone wants help and some aren’t allowed back in a hostel for good reasons.
“In Cambridge, there have been a lot of good stories about people whose lives have been turned round by Street Aid.”
The new project, which would be launched in August if approved, will be funded not by Harrogate Borough Council but by the office of the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.
Harrogate Street Aid’s activities will not duplicate the existing work of charities such as Harrogate Homeless Project, nor will it go towards those group’s funds.
Instead, applications for grants, which must be made via an existing support agency to ensure the money is used properly, will be for one-off pieces of support such as help with paying a bond for accomodation or training courses or mental health support.
Businesses are also being invited to install a ‘tap terminal’ to support Harrogate Street Aid.