A FRESH crackdown on begging was launched in Exeter today in a bid to cut off the supply chain for those funding their addiction.
The team behind the campaign argue that people who give money to beggars are doing more harm than good as money handed over is often spent on drugs or alcohol or to fund a comfortable lifestyle away from the streets.
The problem has now been highlighted in a poster campaign run by the Exeter Community Safety Partnership, which lists the city council and police among its members.
People are being encouraged to donate instead to an Alternative Giving Scheme, where funds are channelled directly towards projects to help the homeless and those sleeping rough. These include Exeter Community Initiatives, St Petrocks, Esther Community, Shillhay, EDP Drug and Alcohol Services, Addaction and Community Housing Aid.
City council leader Pete Edwards, said it was not about demonising homeless people but trying to offer them the help they need.
He said: "Evidence that the overwhelming majority of people begging on the streets of Exeter spend their begging money on crack cocaine and heroin is indisputable. Giving money to these people could be fuelling a drug habit that will eventually kill them.
“These people do need help but paying them direct will cause more harm than good. The best way to help is to donate money instead to the Alternative Giving Scheme where it will go directly to projects involved with helping the homeless and rehabilitating those who have addictions to drugs and alcohol.”
Begging has been a priority issue for the city centre police team in recent months. A recent operation to target the problem showed that all those arrested for begging during a recent sweep were either housed or had been evicted from housing.
Sgt Chris Leisk, city centre beat manager, said the clear distincition needed to be made between genuine homeless people and those begging.
He said: “This is not about trying to establish services that should be provided for people that need help. They are already in place and ready to accept people.
“This also isn't about targetting people who are down on their luck. It's not about arresting or cutting off the help for people who find themselves in hard times. We see the same people every day of the week using begging to fund the lifestyle they choose.
“This campaign is about educating the public to help us make these people get the help they need to challenge their addictions.
“People have expressed concerns over whether stopping the begging will turn these people to other crimes but all the indications we have show that instead they tackle their addictions and turn to the support agencies available.”
Matt Bell, Chief Executive, of Exeter Community Initiatives, said: "This Scheme is a great idea and Exeter needs to support it. Many of us feel we want to help people who are obviously going through difficult times.
“By using the Alternative Giving Scheme the public can make a difference in a way that helps people with their problems by vital funds going to frontline homeless charities like St Petrocks and Shilhay Community who support thousands of people put their lives back together.”
Other evidence has shown that beggars can earn up to £80 a day. A recent audit proved that over 70 per cent of people begging were not homeless. When they had finished begging and obtained their fix they were then returning to their accommodation.
Begging is a criminal offence and giving to beggars on the street continues the cycle of homelessness for those caught up in it. Anyone who sees someone begging can report it to the police by contacting 101. The message is simple 'don't give money to people who are begging – if you would like to help the homeless please support the Alternative Giving Scheme.'
To find out more about the Alternative Giving Scheme go to www.eci.org.uk/EAGSExeters-Alternative-Giving-Scheme