Some street beggars in Harrogate may be earning as much as £300 a day as local bodies grapple with an issue that is likely to split opinion within the town.
The shocking conclusion comes from the local authorities themselves at a time of growing public concern over the rise in visible begging and rough sleeping in Harrogate town centre. A problem more complicated than the public might suspect has been made worse by Harrogate’s ‘honeypot’ reputation.
Now both Harrogate Borough Council and Harrogate Homeless Project have taken the unprecedented step of advising the public only to give money to recognised organisations helping the homeless.
Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper, who has long experience of working with the charities that support the homeless, said the current situation was different from the past.
Coun Cooper said: “In the case of street-begging, many of them come from outside Harrogate. initial findings have estimated that some street-beggars can obtain up to £300 a day.
“There is already accommodation available to people right now and there is 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. It is difficult to fault people for their generosity but giving cash to rough sleepers and street beggars is not the best way to help.”
Concern over the problem is not in short supply.
It’s why Harrogate Borough Council recently formed a high-level working group with the Harrogate Homeless Project, Springboard homeless day centre, the police and the Safer Neighbourhoods group to tackle the issue.
These conclusions may come as a surprise to some but the authorities in Harrogate are not alone in drawing them.
It’s much the same story from police forces, councils and charities across the country, including the likes of Wakefield, Cambridge and the county of Cleveland.
And the council leader’s views are backed up by Liz Hancock, chief executive of Harrogate Homeless Project, the town’s leading charity which offers help and emergency accommodation to homeless adults.
Liz Hancock, said: "Begging is certainly increasing in Harrogate and it can be distressing for members of the public to see people in poverty sitting in the town centre.
"For whatever reason, these are vulnerable people who need money for a variety of different reasons.
"But HHP is keen to highlight that most people begging are not street homeless.
"It’s a natural assumption for people to make, however there are very, very few people who are rough sleeping at present.
"Many people who beg are encouraged by the relative profits to be made, and there is an element of targeted begging, such as key locations in the town centre, key times of day including targeting the night time economy.
"HHP would certainly not condemn people who feel their only option is to sit in the street begging. But we are keen to highlight that most people begging are not street homeless.
"It is a personal choice whether to give money to individuals on the street, but we would not condone this.
"Often it actually supports addictions, preventing people from accessing a life away from the streets.”