When a photograph arrived at the Harrogate Advertiser inbox recently of people sleeping rough in the shelter at Crescent
When a photograph arrived at the Harrogate Advertiser inbox last week of people sleeping rough in the shelter at Crescent Gardens, it’s unlikely the reader was aware that the issue was already prompting much thought by the local authorities.
Located only yards from where there are plans for new luxury apartments in the former headquarters of Harrogate Borough Council, the recent increase of ‘visible’ begging and rough sleeping had led the council to form a high-level working group with the Harrogate Homeless Project, Springboard homeless day centre, the police and the Safer Neighbourhoods group.
The aim of the new group was to look at the causes of a new wave of rough sleeping and street-begging in Harrogate town centre and see what can be done about it.
Such has been the concern among the wider public that big-hearted individuals have tried to come up with their own ideas to help.
One private citizen, Mr Brian Greenwood, even proposed setting up what would be the first of a series of new pop-up hostels for the homeless called Greenhaven Hostel.
Another , Mr David Cooper, has launched what he calls the Harrogate Anti-Homeless Model.
Boasting a free advice line, he is also keen to hold a seminar at Harrogate College with Leeds’ Armed Forces Recruitment office to show how the army can be a route away from the risk of homelessness for young people.
But the initial conclusions made by Harrogate Borough Council’s new working group has thrown up results which may surprise anyone tempted to put their hands in their pocket in a spirit of humanity.
According to Harrogate Borough Council ‘s leader Coun Richard Cooper, the perception of the problem in Harrogate is different to the reality on the ground.
Coun Cooper said: “We are seeing an increase in street-begging in Harrogate.
“But I have learnt from a long association with the Harrogate Homeless Project that this is far more difficult that it seems.
“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.
“In the case of street-begging, many of them 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. “
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 and Cambridge and the county of Cleveland.
The point being reiterated isn’t that the public should not care about the issue, it’s about the complexities of solving it.
Coun Cooper said: “Rough sleeping and street-begging are serious and connected problems.
“However, there is 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 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.
“The aim is to get people back in to accommodation able to cope with everyday life, to get skills and to get a job.
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.
As a result, he concluded, giving money to beggers in Harrogate town centre no longer helped the situation, necessarily.
Instead, he added, the public should donate their cash to Harrogate Homeless Project to support their good work.
Coun Cooper said: “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 HHP, 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.”
A national problem: Harrogate's story the same as elsewhere
The findings by local bodies such as Harrogate Homeless Project and Harrogate Borough Council on street begging and sleeping rough will come as no surprise to the authorities in other major parts of the UK.
Wakefield: In Wakefield earlier this week, the inspector in charge of policing the city centre told the Wakefield Express bluntly that most of the beggars and street drinkers in Wakefield were not, in fact, homeless.
Inspector Helen Brear also said well-meaning people who give money to beggars in the city were being misled and officers were having to work in smarter ways to deal with anti-social behaviour.
But plans to introduce new police powers in the Wakefield district to tackle “aggressive begging” were shelved earlier this year.
The council had been considering introducing public space protection orders (PSPOs) in Pontefract and Castleford town centres, as well as Wakefield city centre, which would mean beggars could have been given on-the-spot £100 fines by officers.
This will not happen.
Cleveland: Cleveland Police recently carried out a survey in Middlesbrough and found of the 20 beggars on the streets 19 of them had accommodation and did not need to sleep rough.
Cambridge: Cambridgeshire Police found in Ely that all the beggars had accommodation and did not need to sleep rough.
The police there are now appealing to citizens not to give money because that only encourages people to beg and not find a job.
UK-wide: At a national level, anyone watching the Channel 4 series 60 Days on the Streets will be aware that the presenter, ex-soldier and adventurer Ed Stafford discovered that, over a 60-day period in London, Manchester and Glasgow, some rough sleepers/beggars were making £40 an hour totalling £200 a night from street donations.
Such was the public’s generosity, they were given more food by passers by than they could eat.
The volunteer in the ‘project’ actually put on 11lbs in weight, rather than losing weight as he expected.