Most of us have a deep-rooted instinct to want to help someone in need. That’s a very good thing and a cornerstone of our individual moral instincts. The Council has also developed many excellent services and has a large number of staff devoted to ensuring that the most vulnerable people get the help they need.
So it may come as a bit of a shock to some when we embark on a campaign that seems to say don’t be a Good Samaritan. But our anti-begging campaign is really asking people to help in a different way, and with good reason.
The fact is that begging is a pretty big issue here in the borough. We’re a lucrative patch and typically you will find people begging on Kensington High Street, King’s Road, Gloucester Road, Knightsbridge and South Kensington (Exhibition Road).
Many will say they want money for food or for accommodation for the night but all the experience of the Council’s Street Population Outreach Team, the local police and many charities that work with the homeless is that a high percentage of those begging use the money to fund their drug and alcohol habits and already have a roof over their head.
The following statistics back up this argument:
Thames Reach’s outreach teams estimate that 80 per cent of people begging do so to support a drug habit. Its outreach teams, including its London Street Rescue service, are out and about on the streets of the capital working with London’s homeless 365 days of the year so they observe the problems at first hand.
When the Metropolitan Police did some drug testing of people arrested for begging, the figures indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.
In a police operation on begging in Birmingham, in autumn 2013, every single one of the 40 people arrested failed a drug test. This operation also showed that six out of ten people arrested for begging had a home. While in London only 40 per cent of people arrested for begging in a Metropolitan Police operation claimed to be homeless.
So, if you really want to help someone who is on the streets it is far better to give your money to the right charity.
There are many excellent organisations that do fantastic work and can help people get their lives back together. Specialist help can be given to work to overcome alcohol and drug addictions, find accommodation and access employment-based training. It’s these organisations that really need your support.
You may have seen our hard-hitting posters on bus shelters, telephone boxes and in Council buildings and libraries. This poster campaign highlights how begging differs from homelessness and that many beggars do have accommodation.
If someone is street homeless, the Council’s outreach workers can identify options available to them. This can include a referral to a hostel, advice about making a housing application or reconnection to an area where they have a local connection (either in the UK or abroad). There are also a number of excellent drug and alcohol treatment services available in the borough.
We believe that if people are unable to fund their drug and alcohol habit through begging they are more likely to access these services and we will support them to do so.
So, don’t be persuaded to give to street beggars, the truth is your money won’t really be helping them. If you are concerned about someone you see on the street you can call our Street Population Outreach Team on 020 7341 5210 or call Streetlink, a national service, on 0300 500 0914.
There is more information on our website and a list of some organisations working with homeless people in the borough at www.rbkc.gov.uk/alternativegiving.