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Crisis and Shelter Cymru call for councils to change their approach to begging

20.09.2018 244 XX

Local authorities should think again about supporting schemes that discourage the public from giving to people who are begging, Crisis and Shelter Cymru said.

More and more Welsh authorities are becoming involved in the introduction of ‘diverted giving’ schemes that encourage the public to donate to the scheme rather than give money directly to people on the streets.

Neath Port Talbot has become the latest to introduce such a scheme. Cardiff’s ‘Give DIFFerently’ scheme has been running since March, and ‘Have a Heart – Give Smart’ was launched in Swansea in January. Other areas such as Newport also have schemes up and running or in development.

Different schemes are run in different ways, including through local business consortia and community safety partnerships. In all schemes local authorities are key partners. Shelter Cymru and Crisis warned that diverted giving schemes have a number of problems, which the public may not be fully aware of.

  • It is extremely difficult for people who are street homeless to apply for funds unless they go through a support worker. This means that the money won’t go to the most excluded and vulnerable people, but to those who are already engaged with and receiving support.
  • The way schemes are advertised can sometimes give the impression that it’s easy for people who are begging to access accommodation, health services and support if they choose to do so. In reality it is much more difficult: for example, in some parts of Wales there are waits of up to six months to get a methadone prescription that would help with drug rehabilitation. Most homeless hostels in Wales also have long waiting lists.
  • Diverted giving schemes could lead to greater public intolerance of people who are begging and/or sleeping rough by suggesting that the public should not consider giving to them. People who are street homeless are already 17 times more likely to be a victim of anti-social behaviour than other members of the public and there are recent cases of people on the street suffering violence and harassment apparently because they were begging.

Karen Grunhut, Director of Crisis’ South Wales service, said:

‘Shelter Cymru and Crisis have a shared interest in wanting everyone to have a permanent home. We are concerned that these diverted giving schemes encourage the public not to consider giving directly to people on the streets. People often ask how they can help and it should be a matter of personal choice for the public whether they want to give food, money or other items. Giving time by stopping to talk to people on the streets and treating them as a fellow human can help reduce the isolation and loneliness that people on the street feel.

‘We were approached to be a part of the schemes in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot and we turned the invitations down. Not all homeless people beg and not all people begging are homeless and some of the language and imagery used in the schemes is very unhelpful to public understanding about what it takes to end rough sleeping.

‘We’re speaking out against the schemes but we will continue to work alongside the organisations involved in the scheme across Swansea and Neath Port Talbot areas to support people into permanent homes and away from homelessness in all its forms for good.’

 

John Puzey, Director of Shelter Cymru, said:

‘Street homelessness and begging are not easy issues to solve and councils will have the best of intentions when they choose to support such schemes – but we are concerned about the possible negative impacts of such schemes, both on people who are begging and on the public’s understanding of the realities of homelessness.’

‘If we had perfect services and a strong safety net then diverted giving schemes might be less of a concern. However, in Wales we cannot say, at the moment, that this is the case. The money spent on these schemes could be put to better use to address some of the barriers that are preventing people from accessing assistance.

‘The conversation has to shift from the symptoms of homelessness to looking at the causes and solutions. The current focus on begging puts all the blame on the individual rather than on the real issues – the lack of affordable homes, access to healthcare and support services.

‘We encourage the public to use common sense when deciding whether to give money to people who are begging. The truth is you have no idea how hard their life might be. If you decide to give money, make it a gift with no strings from one citizen to another. You may choose to give food or other useful items instead. Again, respect people’s preferences. Try asking them if there’s anything they need.

‘If we are serious about ending the need to beg and ending the need to sleep rough, we should be concentrating our efforts on providing permanent homes, together with the support necessary to make it work.’