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We need to acknowledge the humanity of the homeless in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:48 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:48 28 November 2016

Emma Young is not convinced that a police crackdown on Norwich's streets will be effective. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Emma Young is not convinced that a police crackdown on Norwich's streets will be effective. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Archant

Are warnings, dispersal orders, arrests, court proceedings, fines, community orders and a criminal record really going to help?

Begging triggers difficult feelings of guilt, disdain or compassion and for some of us a blind eye as we try to ignore the problem and hurriedly walk passed.

Begging and homelessness is on the rise. Rough sleepers have doubled since 2010.

But beggars are not necessarily homeless.

Some newspapers describe them as con artists, living in expensive accommodation, as though it were a choice.

To beg you’ve got to be pretty desperate.

Some charities state that giving to beggars fuels the problem as many of them are drug addicts or alcohol addicted.

Spending money on drugs obliterates the reality of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

But it depends what you give.

Crisis survey of street sleepers reveals that one third of them say that their main need is food and shelter.

The government has implemented a punitive policy making begging a recordable offence and the police implement it issuing dispersal orders and then arresting as the repeat offenders return.

This strategy is a drain on resources and is just moving the problem out of sight so that public propriety is not offended.

Once the beggars have a criminal record they will be in even less of a position to be rehabilitated and from obtaining accommodation.

The mechanisms of society are not working as the staggering figures of evictions, homelessness and foodbanks show and the safety net of the public sector and support services is being relentlessly cut away.

Some of these people breach their dispersal orders knowing they will be arrested; perhaps a few nights in custody is better than being on the streets.

What can we do?

Acknowledge their humanity, don’t offer cash, offer to buy them food or a hot drink, direct them to the nearest housing and rehab centres.

Say ‘thank you’ if they respond with ‘God Bless’.

Peter Offord, St Clements Hill, Norwich

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