Is Norfolk Police’s crackdown on aggressive begging in Norwich the right approach?
- Credit: Bill Smith - Archant
As Norfolk Police continues its crackdown on aggressive begging and street drinking in the city centre, Luke Powell looks at whether the approach is working.
For some, the growing number of beggars and street drinkers in Norwich has become a blight on the city.
Members of the public say they feel intimidated, while business owners claim it is driving away customers.
And following an increasing number of complaints, Norfolk Police launched a crackdown over the weekend to tackle the issue.
But not everyone agrees with the approach, with some believing that criminalising the city's most vulnerable residents does more harm than good.
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Chief Constable Simon Bailey said officers would be working to address the issue over the coming weeks after people voted for it to become a police priority.
He said: 'In Norwich we've recently seen an increase in complaints concerning aggressive begging and anti-social behaviour by those people including street drinking, urinating, shouting and swearing in the Haymarket area.
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'We can deal with the anti-social behaviour by increasing patrols and resolving incidents when they happen and using powers available to us in a bid to reduce further incidents from happening.'
But Lex Barber, a volunteer at the People's Picnic, which provides hot food to the homeless in Norwich, believed a different approach was needed.
She said: 'While aggressive begging as a problem does need to be solved, I think the police approach completely misses dealing with the root cause of the issue. Banning people from the city centre is the wrong thing to do, because so many of the essential services to help these individuals are here.
'Criminalising someone puts them into a cycle of negative behaviour which is very difficult to get out of.'
Instead, she believes the police needs to work more closely with local organisations like the People's Picnic to help those in need.
Police have powers to eject offenders from inside the inner ring road for up to 48 hours by implementing a Section 35 order.
Those who refuse to cooperate face being arrested.
Over the weekend crackdown, police issued 10 direction to leave notices, and made four arrests, one of which was for begging.
The majority of leave notices were for people in the London Street and Haymarket areas of the city.
Some traders have welcomed the move, claiming an increased number of beggars and street drinkers were driving customers away.
One Haymarket business owner, who did not wish to be named due to fear of reprisals, said: 'They have been known to ask my customers for money while I'm trying to serve them, and when they are offered food instead, they [customers] get a mouthful of abuse.
'After a couple of drinks they start shouting and screaming. The language they use is terrible.'
The business owner said they did not have an issue with those who were 'genuinely homeless', adding that they were usually polite.
Instead, she said it was a rising number of drug users and alcoholics who were causing problems.
Another trader, who also did not wish to be named, added: 'I am totally behind the crackdown because there is no alternative. If you ask them to move, they won't.
'In my personal opinion, the problem is much more prevalent now because a lot more people enable them to have this lifestyle.
'Because they don't have to finance their evening meals they can afford to buy more alcohol.'
On Tuesday, a number of police officers could be seen taking cans of beer away from people gathered in Haymarket.
Daniel, 35, a former heroin addict who lives in Norwich, was subject to a Criminal Behaviour Order earlier this year banning him from drinking in the city.
He believed that police were being 'too heavy' with their approach, adding that if drug addicts are banned from begging, they could start committing crimes.
'What do they think heroin users will do if they don't beg?,' he said. 'They are going to start shop lifting or stealing from people because they need to feed their habit somehow.
Derek Player, general manager at St Martin's Housing Trust, which provides accommodation for the city's homeless, said the majority of people who are genuine rough sleepers do not beg.
Instead, he said there was published research which showed a clear link between drug and alcohol misuse and begging.
What Norfolk Police's chief constable had to say
Chief Constable Simon Bailey said there was a 'misconception' around aggressive begging, adding that many people police come into contact with have access to accommodation.
He said: 'The Haymarket is an area traditionally used by organisations and groups to supply food to homeless people. However, members of the public have reported feeling intimidated by some people using this service while genuine homeless people have told officers they don't feel able to get support for the same reason.
'There is a misconception around aggressive begging. Many people we come into contact with have access to accommodation. Beggars can earn anything between £50 and £150 a day on the streets but what many people don't realise is that this money is spent to fund their addictions.
'A collective approach from police and partners including Norwich City Council and support organisations is in my opinion the best way to help those people who need it most.'
The number of arrests and complaints
Police said there had been 15 arrests for begging over the past 12 months.
In regard to the number of complaints, police said since January 1 to July 18 its
Norwich East Safer Neighbourhood Team area had received:
• 99 calls relating to begging
• 164 calls relating to groups gathering
• 26 calls relating to street drinking
• 96 calls as general ASB – shouting/swearing
• 78 calls relating to general ASB – verbal abuse
Since January 1, 2016 to July 18, 2016 it received:
• 66 calls relating to begging
• 133 calls relating to groups gathering
• 21 calls relating to street drinking
• 138 calls as general ASB – shouting/swearing
• 60 calls relating to general ASB – verbal abuse
Between July 17, 2016 and July 15 2017 it issued 40 Section 35 notices in relation to begging. It said no Section 35 Orders had been issued to people for being homeless.
Norwich City Council's response
Kevin Maguire, Norwich City Council cabinet member with responsibility for rough sleeping strategy, said there were a number of individuals who already receive support and accommodation, but still choose to beg.
He said it was the police's responsibility to take enforcement action against aggressive beggars, but added the council worked alongside them and other organisations to address associated issues.
'Together we dedicate significant resources to preventing homelessness and providing support to anyone who finds themselves on the street,' he said.
'While assistance is there for rough sleepers, there are a number of individuals visible on the streets that already receive support and accommodation but in some instances still choose to beg.'
The council said anyone who spots a rough sleeper in Norwich should email firstname.lastname@example.org or through the streetlink.org.uk mobile app to ensure they receive the support they need.
What is the solution?
Derek Player, general manager of St Martins Housing Trust, said the issue was not an easy one to solve.
He said people with drug and alcohol addictions, or mental health issues need to be seen to by the relevant services.
Mr Player said that people can access such help through the charity's Bishopbridge House direct access hostel on William Kett Close.
But he admitted that the 'pathway' to moving people on from the hostel into other forms of accommodation was under strain due to a 'significant' number of high needs individuals currently there.
As a result, the organisation was unable to make more beds available.
'We have a significant number of high needs individuals who have a very limited number of move on options at Bishopbridge. It is a pathway system dependent on support from lots of different organisations, and if don't get that support, there is a limited amount that we can do.'