Senior council and community figures have called on Harrogate businesses to back the new joint-initiative aimed at tackling street begging and homelessness in the town.
Further details about Street Aid - a collaborative project between the council, North Yorkshire Police and Harrogate Homeless Project - were revealed at a meeting of the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce this week.
Addressing business figures from the district, senior council members including leader Richard Cooper and community safety officer Helen Richardson, as well as the chief executive of Harrogate Homeless Project Liz Hancock, stated the importance of local businesses getting on board with the initiative.
“We need the guest houses,hotels and businesses all on the same side...we need everyone singing from the same hymn sheet to solve this problem,” Coun Cooper told chamber members.
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“The chamber of commerce could be extremely helpful in that...We need your help in the education of the public that the money they are giving on the street is money is doing harm.”
His views were echoed by Ms Richardson, who acknowledged that local businesses had been “heavily affected” by a tent encampment which sprung up in the Harrogate’s town centre in the last several weeks.
“By giving a few pounds to a person, you are not helping get that person off the street,” she said.
“But, by donating towards the pot, you’re helping get that person off the street...your contributing to a fund that could be put towards therapy or something that helps people which can help beat that addiction.”
Announced last week, the Street Aid initiative will see contactless ‘tap terminals’ installed in the town centre, where people will be able to donate a suggested £3 to the homeless via a debit or credit card rather than handing over cash to beggars.
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Organisations supporting the homeless would be invited to apply for grants of up to £500 to assist individuals to get off the streets.
The new system would also enable more accurately the numbers of homeless in the area, and what services they were accessing, according to Ms Richardson.
“Applications will come to a central area and that’ll help us monitor exactly who is out there,” Ms Richardson said.
When quizzed by a member of the chamber on how transparent the process would be, and whether it would replace existing council or community services, Ms Richardson said the final account would be managed by the Two Ridings Community Foundation, separate to the council, although all bodies involved would oversee the distribution of grants.
She added that the fund wouldn’t replace any current services, with the intention for the first grants to be given within two months of the new scheme starting up.
Chief executive of Harrogate Homeless Project, Liz Hancock, added that consultations with service users would help inform the grant process.
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“From a Harrogate Homeless Projects point of view, we do consult with service users,” she said, with a specific example seeing them changing their opening hours to cater to the homeless.
Coun Cooper said the scheme would complement other actions currently underway within the borough, including the development of a homeless shelter at Starbeck capable of housing almost 20 rough sleepers, as well as the approval of new social housing at Allhallowgate in Ripon.
The initiative was formally approved by cabinet member for housing and community safety, Mike Chambers at a meeting on Thursday, with the councillor saying the initiative "would be given every chance to work".
"There's clearly an issue in Harrogate with street begging and homeless, and clearly we need to take some action to address it," he said.
"We're not looking to move them on, but we are looking to set up a system that's designed at getting and keeping these people off the streets."
Coun Chambers said he was "happy to approve it", and was confident it would be successful, based upon the positive reviews of the highly-touted Cambridge version of the initiative, of which Harrogate's is closely modelled off.
Coun Chambers said the trial would be reviewed around Christmas.
"I've got every confidence it'll send the right message to the public that we're listening to their concerns, and doing the right thing by everyone involved."
Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter