The shocking sight of a mini ‘tented village’ in Harrogate town centre has prompted an unprecedented response by the town’s authorities over street begging.
Following an online story by the Harrogate Advertiser focusing on the developing situation in the town centre, for the first time ever the groups who help the town’s homeless on a daily basis have issued a jointly-signed letter to the Advertiser.
The signatories include Liz Hancock, chief Eexecutive of Harrogate Homeless Project; Paul Ivison, lead volunteer for North Yorkshire Horizons (drug and alcohol recovery service ); John Fox, chairman of Harrogate BID; Sandra Doherty, chief executive of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce; Inspector Penny Taylor of Harrogate Police and Coun Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council.
As visible street begging in the town’s shop doorways and alleyways continues to be an issue, the message from the likes of Harrogate Borough Council, Harrogate Homeless Project and North Yorkshire Horizons (drug and alcohol recovery service) is sure to cause some controversy among the public.
Harrogate advice: Don't give directly to beggars
One message stressed repeatedly by all the groups is not to give cash directly to street beggars but, instead, to give donations directly to the relevant local homeless charities.
The letter says: “A large proportion of those begging on the streets come in to Harrogate from neighbouring areas where they live to beg because they know that people in Harrogate are compassionate and will give money generously to them.
“This is not the best way to help people with serious problems.”
Harrogate: Official figures on homeless
Last November official figures from homelessness charity Shelter showed there were 124 homeless people living within the Harrogate local authority area.
But the charity’s report also showed 118 of those were already living in temporary accommodation with just six sleeping rough.
'Harrogate street beggars aren't truly homeless'
The joint letter also says the majority of people sitting in tents or in sleeping bags are not truly homeless.
“There is no need for anyone to sleep on the streets. There is free emergency accommodation at the Harrogate Homeless Project on Bower Street and the Housing Options Team at Harrogate Borough Council stand ready to help. Those begging on the streets currently are in receipt of benefits and the vast majority are housed.
“It is unusual for someone not to have accommodation and not to have access to benefits which are available even if someone is homeless.”
'Harrogate street beggars: New strategy coming
Along with the other main groups in town, including Harrogate police, Harrogate Borough Council is currently working on a new strategy to deal with the changing situation, to be unveiled later this year.
How Harrogate Homeless Project helps
A major supporter of the new approach on street begging is Harrogate Homeless Project, which runs a 16-bed hostel for adults and also a five-bed emergency bed scheme, where overnight shelter and support is provided.
As public concern has risen, it has been keen to stress that persuading some people to seek help is not always easy.
Harrogate advice: How you can help the homeless
For those who are not willing to access emergency shelter, Harrogate Homeless Project offers sleeping bags and warm clothing as well as warm snacks and drinks overnight from its hostel on Bower Street.
If members of the public are concerned about anyone they believe may be sleeping rough, they are advised to let them know that help is available from Harrogate Homeless Project, or call the HHP’s 24-hour staff team on 01423 566900 for help.