Is Norwich City Council right to consider action to crack down on begging?
People in Norwich are to be urged to stop giving money to beggars as part of a major new campaign which aims to redirect money to charities which help the homeless.Norwich City Council is set to launch the alternative giving campaign because of concerns that more beggars are taking to the city centre streets.
Officers at City Hall fear Norwich is being specifically targeted by people travelling into the city to beg because they can get up to £50 begging to fuel drug and alcohol addictions.
The plan is for Norwich to follow in the footsteps of Oxford, Leeds and Cambridge, by discouraging people from giving to beggars, but instead encouraging donations to recognised charities.
In a report which will go before city councillors this week, Ermir Prendi, the council’s single homeless and rough sleeper coordinator, says: “It is now becoming apparent that Norwich is seen as such a good place to beg, that some people are actually travelling from outside the city on a daily basis to do just that.
“This is because the returns are greater than where they live. People begging in Norwich can make £50 per day because of the generosity of residents and visitors.
“Unfortunately, most people who beg use the proceeds to buy alcohol and drugs. By begging, they make themselves vulnerable and put themselves in dangerous situations.
“Begging attracts anti-social behaviour, violence, crime, drug-dealing and exploitation. Giving to people who beg is not a benign act. It can have fatal consequences.”
The campaign, which will be funded through a grant provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government, will feature posters and publicity, with QR codes and web links so people can make donations to recognised charities which help the homeless.
Mr Prendi said, in his report: “Street begging is becoming increasingly visible in Norwich. Previously it was almost exclusively associated with the nighttime economy, although, more recently it has become a daytime issue.
“Popular perceptions link begging to homelessness, however, contrary to these perceptions most people who beg are not homeless, and are using the money they receive to support a drug or alcohol addiction.”
He said Norwich officially has six verified rough sleepers and many of those who beg actually have homes, either through the city council, housing associations or other organisations.
But he added: “There are examples of individuals who have lost their accommodation and have become entrenched in a street lifestyle through their reliance on late night begging to fund their substance misuse.
“The individuals concerned would rather maximise begging opportunities than be accommodated.
“Donating to a local charity is a better way to ensure that your money is spent on finding real and long lasting solutions to homelessness and substance addiction.”
One of the goals of the campaign is that, by making begging, which is against the law, less profitable, it will force those who beg to address their real needs, with the council working with police and health agencies to support them.
The alternative giving campaign has the backing of Norfolk police. Superintendent Dave Marshall, Norwich policing commander, said: “Anything which can help us support the lives of people who are homeless in the city is positive.
“Often, by giving to those who are begging people are just helping them to maintain a destructive and damaging lifestyle.
“We acknowledge these people need help and we hope such a scheme could help those in most need get their lives back on track.” Other organisations which are backing the campaign include St Martins Housing Trust, Salvation Army (Pottergate Arc), Norwich Foodbank, Kings Community Initiative, The Matthew Project and the Big Issue.
The city council’s controlling Labour cabinet will be asked on Wednesday to agree to launch the alternative giving campaign.