"Don't pussy-foot around homelessness": Bold plans to tackle Harrogate street begging scrutinised

A donation tap point in action at Cambridge.
A donation tap point in action at Cambridge.

Harrogate councillors have thrown their support behind the bold plans to tackle street begging in the town, although some reservations remain, with one councillor stating she didn't agree with "pussy footing around" the issue of homelessness.

Members of the overview and scrutiny committee, the body tasked with perusing the activities of the authority, were updated on the progress of the Harrogate Street Aid project, which is scheduled to launch over the coming month.

While multiple councillors had high words of praise for the program, one member of the committee stated she was sick of “pussy footing around” the issue, and called on the police to play a greater role in moving beggars along.

How Harrogate will reduce street begging with contactless payments
"If it's illegal, why not take the bull by the horns and get the police to remove them?" Coun Sue Lumby (Cons, Harrogate Coppice Valley) said.

"I know we're torn by public not liking it, but the police aren't there to do what the public like. I don't agree with this pussy footing around, if they've broken the law they should be removed...If something is illegal and you break the law you face the consequences."

In response, Julie Everill from Harrogate Homeless Project said the authority needed to "keep in mind how vulnerable these people are" while acknowledging that street begging wasn't a violent act.

Harrogate businesses called on to support new homeless contactless donation scheme
Helen Richardson, council's community safety officer who is a driving force behind the scheme, said it was heavily based off a "highly successful" model in Cambridge which had seen rates of begging drop dramatically while providing further support for homeless people.

The majority of councillors voiced their enthusiasm for the initiative, with Coun Pat Marsh (Lib Dems, Harrogate Hookstone) calling it an "absolutely fantastic idea" which could see more people donating to help the homeless.

"For me, it means I can start to give, I don't give at the moment because I don't know where that money is going, I don't want to feed someone's habit...Now I've got an opportunity to give," she said.

Other councillors inquired if the project was successful, whether it could be rolled-out to other vulnerable peoples, such as sex workers in red-light areas.

A collaborative project between the council, North Yorkshire Police and Harrogate Homeless Project, the scheme will see a contactless donation point installed in the town centre, where contributions of £3 can be made to a central fund.

That fund will be used to provide grants for the homeless in a move aimed at reducing the lucrativeness of begging in the town, while helping getting vulnerable people off the street permanently.

It's anticipated that the first grants will be allocated to individuals within two months of the scheme starting up.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter