Police have promised action to combat the growing number of “intimidating” street drinkers in Harrogate town centre who are selling drugs, urinating in alleyways and brawling in public.
Officers have called a public meeting next week to try to tackle the problem, which business owners and residents claim is getting worse.
Bower Street, Beulah Street and the Oxford Street area have been pinpointed as street-drinking hotspots where groups congregate at various times of the day.
One business owner, who did not wish to be named, said the situation had got so bad, her staff were scared to go to work and customers were being put off visiting her shop.
She said: “I have a business on Bower Street. The problem we have got is people drinking in the street outside our shop. They sell drugs outside quite blatantly. Some of them just pass out in the street and some of them get very aggressive. Last week there was a big fight outside.
“We are trying to run a business and it’s really hard. It stops customers coming down the street and my staff are scared to come to work. My business could end up closing down because of this. It’s really intimidating and it’s getting beyond a joke, so it’s good news that something is finally going to be done about it.”
A resident from the Mayfield Grove area said groups of up to 10 Eastern Europeans often drank alcohol in her street after visiting the nearby Corrina and Friends Community Cafe, which provides food for the homeless.
She said: “They drink and urinate in the street. It’s a residential area and residents feel they can’t have their children playing out at some times of the day because they are quite intimidating.
“I’m very glad the police are trying to do something about it because it’s becoming a nightmare.”
In an effort to tackle the issue, Harrogate Police have launched ‘Operation Parakeet’.
A public meeting will he held at the Wesley Chapel, in Oxford Street, at 5pm next Thursday in response to the growing number of calls from concerned members of the public.
Harrogate Town Centre PC Graham Frostick said: “We have seen a rise in reports from both our residents on the periphery of the town centre and our businesses in relation to street drinking and antisocial behaviour.
“The Safer Neighbourhood Team for Harrogate town has launched Operation Parakeet to look at investigating and challenging alcohol related anti-social behaviour and crime.
“While we will always respond as best as we can to reports we try to work in partnership with other agencies. To this end we are holding a community meeting to allow all the interested parties to come together and air their concerns in this matter.
“I am hoping that we will be able have representation from all the local agencies that will play a part in helping solve any problems that come to light and allow elected members to hear first hand the concerns of the Harrogate workers, residents and general public.”
Peter Jesper, owner of Jespers, in Oxford Street, said the town’s chamber of trade was aware of the problem and members were planning to discuss the issue as part of town centre improvement plans.
He said: “I’m quite involved with the chamber’s town centre focus group and this is one of the items that will be up for discussion.
“There seems to be a growing population of people who are gathering in the nooks and crannies of the town centre out of public view.
“In recent months at the rear of our premises we have had individuals, who appear to be from the homeless community, gathering to smoke and drink and the result of that is graffiti, littering and the place being used as a toilet, which we have to clean up.
“This has caused us to change our working patterns as it’s no longer safe to open and close our business alone.
“It has started to become intimidating as it is getting more and more confrontational. That is not good for me or my colleagues, or neighbours and Harrogate in general.
“It’s been going on for the last five or six months and it just seems to be more regular now.
“I’m looking forward to being able to contribute to next week’s meeting. I’m also going to be canvassing chamber members to determine how many are experiencing the same problem.”
Andy Kirk, project leader at the Harrogate Homeless Project, which runs a hostel on Bower Street, said the charity was aware of the issue, however he stressed service users shouldn’t singled out for blame.
He said: “There are many who believe people who are drinking on the streets are homeless. While some of them are, it is important to remember that the people who are causing problems are from a mixture of backgrounds.
“The issue is these people look for shelter during the winter months and locations like Bower Street and the back of the Halifax bank in Oxford Street have places with cover. This is why people are reporting it more and more.”
The charity is currently working with Harrogate Borough Council and other agencies, including North Yorkshire Horizons drug and alcohol service, to try and tackle the problem.
Mr Kirk added: “We have had an initial meeting to see how we can solve the problem and we are looking at having regular meetings to tackle it, particularly leading up to Christmas.
“We are in the early stages of identifying those responsible and we are trying to put support in place for those people.
“We will be attending the meeting next week and will look at ways of formulating a street drinking multi-agency response.”