Harrogate is to redouble its efforts to tackle long-term homelessness after initial findings showed the majority of street-beggars and rough sleepers in the town centre are already able to access, or have been offered, a home or hostel accommodation.
As visible street begging in Harrogate's shop doorways and alleyways continues to grow, a new investigation has concluded that many of the people involved come from outside the town itself.
After rising public concern, Harrogate Borough Council has formed a high-level working group with the Harrogate Homeless Project, Springboard, the police and the Safer Neighbourhoods group to look at the causes of rough sleeping and street-begging in the town centre and what can be done.
Harrogate Borough Council 's leader Coun Richard Cooper said: "We are seeing an increase in street-begging in Harrogate.
"Rough sleeping and street-begging are serious and connected problems. However, there is accommodation available to people right now.
"There is already a strong support network with funding from the council, local charities and voluntary organisations.
"We need those who are sleeping rough or street-begging to engage with that support.
"The aim is to get people back in to accommodation able to cope with everyday life, to get skills and to get a job.
"I have learnt from a long association with the Harrogate Homeless Project that this is far more difficult that it seems."
Coun Cooper said part of the complicated nature of the issue involved people who were not homeless coming to Harrogate to benefit from residents and shoppers' generosity.
And, he said, some even 'rent' dogs to gain sympathy from passers-by.
As a result, he concluded, giving money to beggers in Harrogate town centre did not help the situation, necessarily.
Instead, he added, the public should donate their cash to Harrogate Homeless Project to support their good work.
Coun Cooper said: "The initial findings show that the majority of street-beggars and rough sleepers are able to access or have been offered a home or hostel accommodation.
"There are confidentiality issues which prevent public bodies releasing the details of individuals.
"However, it is fair to say that some of those sleeping rough have forfeited the accommodation with which they have been provided due to anti-social behaviour issues.
"Others have had hostel and temporary accommodation withdrawn because of incidents with staff at that accommodation.
"In spite of this, some of those sleeping rough are still in receipt of benefits which include an element designed to pay for accommodation.
"In the case of street-begging, many of these people come from outside Harrogate.
"They are drawn here from their homes in neighbouring areas because of the generosity of local people and the superb provision our area offers to those presenting themselves as in need.
"Many of these people have addiction problems. Because they have a home and may be in receipt of state benefits, additional money obtained from begging is often spent on fuelling drug and alcohol addictions.
"Initial findings have estimated that some street-beggars can obtain up to £300 a day.
"There is also evidence that some street-beggars who have a pet dog with them actually rent the dog from one to another as this enhances the amount local people give.
"We all play a role in encouraging that to happen but giving cash to rough sleepers and street beggars is not the best way to help.
"That is why the Harrogate Homeless Project advises people not to do so. It can be difficult but it is advice we should follow.
"I would strongly urge people to give to the Harrogate Homeless Project, instead, as their professional staff can help provide the support rough sleepers and street-beggars need to fight addictions, cope with family breakdown and be treated for mental and physical health problems.
"It is difficult to fault people for their generosity but it is that generosity which provides one more reason why many do not seek the help available."