Preston authorities have promised to “up the ante” on the city’s street begging problem.
A fresh enforcement initiative has kicked off this week with four patrols each day centred on Fishergate.
Beggars who ignore warnings will be issued with formal notices ordering them to leave within five minutes.The long-awaited scheme, which started on Monday, comes as latest figures
reveal around 80 per cent of Preston’s street beggars are not genuinely homeless.Organised as a partnership between the city council, Lancashire Police and various support services,
officers will signpost those who require help to relevant organisations.
George Holroyd, team leader for the town hall’s environmental protection department, said the patrols have already had an impact.
He told the Lancashire Post: “We did speak to a gentlemen who we have been trying to speak to for ages and suddenly he has decided to engage.
“He has drug addiction issues, so that’s a big success from this morning because he now is going to see Discover (drug and alcohol service), because their officers were out with us.
“This individual has been around for 12 months and not engaged with us, he has changed his mind and now wants to get clean.
“That’s the root of the problem, the begging is what you see on the face of it but there’s reasons why they’re begging. “The only way to solve it is to dig down to those reasons, it’s not easy, but it can be done.”
The ongoing patrols are designed to send a clear message street begging will not be tolerated, Mr Holroyd explained.
Persistent offenders will face more severe sanctions but officers hope they will engage with support services before then.
Mr Holroyd said: “It is enforcement, but it’s enforcement with all the help. The Community Protection Notice letter says stop begging within five minutes but three out of the four points are signposting to support.
“It’s around getting them as much help as possible but saying we need you to stop begging. We’ve had so much adverse attention because of begging.
“People are ringing up saying it ruins the look of Preston, it’s intimidating. And it impacts on businesses in the city centre.
“We don’t want it to be, we’ve moved them on and that’s it; that’s not solving the problem.
“If they come in and sit down with somebody, almost everything can be sorted out. They can talk to housing advice, talk to debt advice. They may think there’s no way around it, but there is usually a way of doing it.”
The call to action on street begging could coincide with a boost for the city’s prospects of effectively tackling homelessness.
The town hall has bid for a share of central government funding that could see more than £100k invested over the next two years.
It would see a combined effort from local services to adopt a Making Every Adult Matter (Meam) scheme to provide solutions for adults with complex needs, such as mental health, substance misuse, offending behaviour and frequent instances of homelessness.
Working alongside counterpart local authorities across the county will also have an impact on the street begging action, Mr Holroyd adds.
Persistent offenders can be issued with fixed penalty fines or court action with banning orders issued across authority boundaries.
Mr Holroyd said: “They get a warning first before being issued with the notice. If they carry on, and we witness breaches of the notice, and they’re the ones who are housed and not engaging and won’t be decent with us we can go for two options. One is a fixed penalty but we know that really isn’t the way to go.
“The other is to go to court, and go for a criminal behaviour order against them to prevent them from begging anywhere in the city. We’re going to broaden it out across Lancashire so that those who get these orders in other places, in Blackpool for instance, we can extend it for Preston, rather than issue another one. If we share the information we can tighten the whole thing up.
“These people have such chaotic lifestyles so that they don’t engage but if you go out and say, ‘Here’s an appointment (for support services) tomorrow at 2pm’, that can make a difference.”
Mark Whittle, manager of the Preston Business Improvement District (BID) said: “This is not us being anti-homeless people by any stretch.
“It’s about providing support and guidance where necessary. But it’s also about working together to try and make it less attractive (to beg).
“Most towns and cities have issues with anti-social begging. It is an issue that has been present in Preston for quite some time, but it is not exclusive to us.”
Give to homeless charities - not to beggars on the street
Authorities have also launched an initiative this week to encourage residents to donate to homeless charities rather than handing over money in the street to beggars.
Citing figures revealing eight out of 10 beggars in Preston are not genuinely homeless, the street posters will pose the question: Are you really giving to the homeless?
Donations can be made via text message with proceeds going to local charities such as the Foxton Centre or Emmaus.
Speaking recently, council leader Coun Peter Rankin said: “The vital message is that the generous people of Preston will feel that they want to give but there is a far better way.
“Give to the Foxton Centre, for example, which is doing such an amazing job for the homeless. That’s what I want to get across.
“Preston is attractive to beggars because they prey on people’s generosity here, it’s as simple as that.”
HOW TO DONATE:
Text a donation to Off The Streets Preston on 70070. Text OFTS 99 followed by the amount you wish to donate.
For more information:
‘I don’t ask for anything’
The weather was unforgiving as the patrol set out for its second outing of the day on Tuesday.
With rain pelting the Fishergate pavement, several beggars were moved on. However, some had returned within the hour.
Speaking to the Lancashire Post, one individual said he was sceptical whether the enforcement action would have the desired impact. “I’ve been homeless for a few years, I’ve been put in housing (projects) but they’re full of drugs and I’m in recovery.
“I don’t ask for anything, I just sit here.”
Asked whether the new scheme would make a difference, he shook his head.
Another said: “What are they going to do? Fine us?”
Mr Holroyd hopes the increased presence - with representatives from the Foxton Centre - carrying out their own rounds will encourage engagement.
He said: “We’re putting all the services together and co-ordinating it and the message does get out there.”
Councillor out on patrol
Coun Peter Moss, cabinet member for planning and regulation, went out on patrol on Monday as the enforcement action was launched.
He said: “Lots of people are unaware of the services on offer. It’s clear that some of those out begging are not homeless, they have a registered address and are doing it simply for the money but may need support and advice.
“There’s fantastic local charities that are in a far better position to identify the individual needs of those who are genuinely homeless and we want strongly encourage people to donate to them rather than give money on the street.
“There’s no silver bullet or simple panacea to provide the answer, it’s about working together as no one agency can do this on their own.
“There’s people with complex problems and they need to be helped as individuals.”