Concerns have been raised that good Samaritans who give tents and sleeping bags to rough sleepers in Leeds are exacerbating the city’s begging problem.
An unofficial group of volunteers has been meeting regularly in the city centre to provide food to people on the streets as well as donate items to give them shelter.
But police, who are leading an operation to crack down on begging, say services are already in place to help people facing genuine hardship.
In a Facebook post, the City Neighbourhood Policing Team said: “This is a really kind gesture, however it isn’t helping in our aim to help people get away from this lifestyle, it is helping them to continue.”
Insp Andy Berriman said there were suggestions some beggars had sold supplies they had been given to buy drugs and alcohol.
He added: “There’s no need to give to them – if you want to do something to help, channel it in the right direction to the official agencies. If you give to them directly you are just helping them to carry on.”
Lesley Howard, of the official Leeds Street Outreach Team, said the objective of its “trained and experienced workers” was to address “the complex needs of people who are rough sleeping or begging”.
“Ultimately, the aim is to help them make a lasting move to safe, warm and sustainable accommodation,” she said.
Chris Fields, chief executive of the St George’s Crypt charity, said: “Leeds is incredibly fortunate that as a city it already has very strong links in the homeless sector between ourselves, the police, CRI, St Annes, Simon on the Streets and the council to name a few.
“We do realise and appreciate that people can fall through the cracks and if they are identified by any other agency working on the street then we would suggest they contact any of the above agencies immediately to ensure as many people access help and support as possible.”
However, Haydn Jessop, one of the organisers of the Homeless Leeds Support Group, said the group would continue to run their weekly outreach sessions.
He said: “We don’t want to bad-mouth the police and other agencies, but it seems to be that if you have an addiction it is difficult to get the help you need.”
“A lot of the people we come across don’t want to come off the streets. Our aim is to feed and clothe them.”
An online fund has been set up to support official efforts to help beggars.
To donate visit www.justgiving.com/thinkbeforeyougive