Local authorities are now saying that giving money to charities is better than giving to street beggars in Harrogate. I visited a hostel to see how the money is spent helping the homeless.
It’s not often that a charity for the homeless advises that giving to street beggars may not be the best way forward.
But the stark assessment in last week’s newspaper by Harrogate organisations which do most to help the homeless that the current situation was not what it seemed is one they came to reluctantly.
Acknowledging bluntly that the growing number of street-beggars and rough sleepers in the town are able to access or have already been offered a home or hostel accommodation and that many street beggars come from outside Harrogate or are earning money for drugs may have come came as a shock to some readers.
But the claims follow months of concern by the authorities over the increase in visible begging and rough sleeping in Harrogate and what to do about it.
Influenced by successful schemes in other towns and cities, a high-level working group set up Harrogate Borough Council with representatives from Harrogate Homeless Project, Springboard homeless day centre, the police and the Safer Communities group is already hard at work on a new initiative.
Whatever it comes up with is likely to reflect the current approach of Harrogate Homeless Project.
First founded in 1991, this independent charity runs the district’s only rough sleeper scheme called No Second Night Out, a 16-bedroom hostel and a weekday day service called Springboard.
It prides itself on the mantra of “no second night out” for anyone looking for shelter.
But its bigger aim is to keep people off the streets in the long run by pointing them in the right direction to change their lives.
The Harrogate Advertiser talked to two of its former clients, who wish to remain anonymous, on a visit to its hostel on Bower Street.
Thanks to the help they received from HHP, they are now no longer homeless.
Both plunged the depths before emerging out the other side with the help not only of Harrogate Homeless Project but other bodies such as Harrogate Borough Council.
Turning a real person's life around: Case A
“My relationship with my wife and family fell apart. I kept disappearing every couple of weeks to live in the woods."
Case A is an ex-soldier who served in Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles.
After leaving the army in the 1980s, this fifty-something had a family and a well-paid job in sales.
But all the time the effects of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) were quietly building up.
He said: “My relationship with my wife and family fell apart. I kept disappearing every couple of weeks to live in the woods.
“Then about four years ago I parked my car at Hornbeam railway station and walked into the woods and spent a week there. It was winter and I got a chest infection.
“I bumped into a homeless person. He said go to Springboard.
“I spent a night there in the living room then they got me seen by a doctor. The next day I got a room in the hostel where I stayed for two months.
“They then found me a ‘move on’ house, a shared house with a support worker from Harrogate Homeless Project for six or seven months.
"Now I live in a flat of my own on the southern side of Harrogate.
“I understand why ex-servicemen are reluctant to seek help and go to the woods.
“After the army, they can’t cope with responsibilities anymore. They want to be free.
“But there is another way. I volunteer at Springboard now to give something back."
Turning a real person's life around: Case B
"When I arrived I was in a bad mental state. But without exception the staff were amazing."
Case B is a well-educated, former bank manager with an impressive CV and a record of success.
Used to living a prosperpous life it all went wrong through relationship problems and bad luck.
Like Case A, this sixty-something’s short spell of being homeless led to serious medical problems.
She said: “I’ve had a rotten ten years. There was a break-up in a relationship then I lost my beautiful home.
“I’d already taken early retirement from my work and was living on a private pension.
“My possessions were in storage and I found myself homeless.
“I slept rough in Harrogate town centre one night last December and I got hypothermia
“I was taken to Harrogate Hospital at three in the morning. My temperature was dangerously low.
“I went to Harrogate Council and, at first, they put me up in a shared hostel in Knaresborough, which was a real shock.
“I wanted to get back to normal and argued my case.
“The council pointed me to Harrogate Homeless Project.
“I was in their hostel over Christmas and moved out in February. I cannot praise Harrogate Homeless Project highly enough.
“When I arrived I was in a bad mental state. But without exception the staff were amazing. Helped by Harrogate Council I moved into a flat in the Harlow Hill area. It’s going very well. I can see myself living here for the rest of my life.
“Having experienced homelessness for myself, it’s mindblowing. I didn’t even know this world existed. I feel strongly that people should know it can happen to anyone. But there is help available and your life can change for the better.”