A JEWELLER has been criticised for helping the homeless, after being told by a Leeds street warden that he is attracting “undesirables” to the area.
Businessman Dion Smith, who has run his own jewellers store in the Corn Exchange area of Leeds city centre since 2010, had built up a rapport with the homeless in the area and over the years had often raised money and handed out cups of tea.
During the cold weather in January, Mr Smith decided to up the ante and left an urn out at the back of his shop containing cups of tea, packs of cup-a-soup, and biscuits and bread.
He already has a dog flap at the back of his shop for his English bulldog, 10-year-old Lulu, who often sits outside the store - which was then used as a hatch for the homeless to reach Mr Smith’s offerings.
He put out a sign reading: Lulu the Charity Bulldog. ALL MONEY GOSE TO HELP US SERVE HOT SNACKS TO THE LEEDS HOMELESS. THANK YOU FOR DONATING (sic).
But Mr Smith, who creates his own bespoke jewellery, said: “Last week we were approached by three people wearing bowler hats who said we should stop providing food to the homeless as it was attracting intimidating and undesirable people to the area.
“I was a bit taken aback. As far as I was aware I was doing a good thing.
“I’ve never had any problem with the takings at my shop and as far as I’m aware I’ve not had any customers being put off by what I am doing.
“It’s happening at the back of the shop, not in the actual Corn Exchange so I don’t see what harm it was doing.
“In fact I would say it has had the opposite effect, with people praising what I was doing.
“It’s not like it attracted the homeless, because they are already here. Many would come and grab a cup of tea and go.
“I am not the real problem. The problem is that there are homeless people in our city. It is that that needs sorting out.
“For now I have stopped putting out food because I don’t want to upset anyone. I’ve reverted back to shoving the kettle on like I used to.”
Mr Smith was approached by the ironically named group of street wardens called The Welcome People.
They are employed by Leeds Business Improvement District (BID) and have been a new feature in the city since February.
They are supposed to be friendly folk who dress in overcoats and bowler hats, to help out visitors to Leeds, giving directions and being helpful.
Martin Dixon, head of marketing at BID, said: “They could have chosen slightly better words. I think it was a positive intention and in hindsight we can reflect on how we deliver certain messages. There is a lesson to be learned for us all.”
Mr Smith said: “I’m not happy that I’ve been told to stop. What is wrong with helping out?”
Aissa Gallie, from local homeless charity, Simon on the Streets, said: “The reasons that people end up on the streets homeless are vast and complex and their sense of isolation is very real.
“Our charity works to give emotional and practical support to those who are rough sleeping or at risk of rough sleeping.
“For our clients, they experience barriers to engagement with many services. They have no self-worth and feel that no-one cares for them.
“Our work is to help them build the motivation, understanding and self-esteem to engage with services and turn their lives around.
“The role that the community plays in that is significant.
“For our clients who used the support that Mr Smith has been offering, they have a real and tangible understanding that people in their community do care for them.
“For those who feel unable to engage in more structured services, the unconditional and non-confrontational support that Dion offers is sincerely appreciated.
“It is naïve and an over simplification to infer that the public support for the homeless encourages them to continue their lifestyle.
“Getting off the streets is incredibly difficult, it takes time, determination and a huge amount of motivation.
“For the people using Dion’s support, at his shop window, to be classed as ‘undesirable’ is demeaning and does not represent the opinions of the Leeds business community as we have known them over a number of years.
“Who has the authority to decide if someone is undesirable or not?
“We believe the vast majority of people are genuine in their desire to reach out and help those who are vulnerable and we whole heartedly support the community of Leeds who do so.”
Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint said: “Mr Smith’s kind acts towards homeless people in one of our country’s biggest cities just highlights the increasing number of people who are homeless in the UK.
“83,000 16 to 25 year-olds experience homelessness every year, with increasing numbers forced to sleep on the street.
“The long term solution cannot be to rely on acts of kindness by shopkeepers like Mr Smith, and this is certainly not an issue that can be simply moved on out of public sight.
“What we need is local councils, with the financial support of the government, to work with charities such as Centrepoint to end the scandal of youth homelessness.”