A new ‘three-strikes’ policy is being launched in the latest attempt to rid the streets of Leeds of “hard core” beggars.
Supposed down-and-outs found hassling the public for cash in the city centre will initially be given a written ‘amber’ warning ordering them to stop and providing contact details for support organisations if they have genuine housing and health needs.
Those caught a second time face a ‘red’ warning banning them from a designated area for 48 hours. If they still fail to heed the warnings, they could be then be arrested.
Temporary Inspector Andy Berriman, who runs the City Neighbourhood Policing Team, said there were about two dozen beggars who had refused to engage with the authorities in Leeds.
He said: “The ones we’re dealing with – the hard core element – have got somewhere to live and receive benefits.
“We’re are not targeting destitute people, we’re targeting people who are making a living effectively from professionally begging rather than doing an actual trade or a skill.”
Despite a series of efforts, police and the city council have struggled to deal with the issue of begging in Leeds.
Last year the council was given the go-ahead to issue injunctions under anti-social behaviour legislation. A high-profile campaign earlier this year to dissuade the public from giving to beggars has failed to stop some making £100 a day.
Mr Berriman said one man regularly travels into Leeds to beg on the streets at weekends while his partner works at McDonald’s before they both get a taxi home.
In October a 36-year-old beggar died following years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Mr Beriman added: “We don’t want someone else to go that way. We need people to think before they give because they might well be funding their habit.
“We have seen people who are entrenched in begging and they are wasting away before our eyes and we’re concerned about them.
“I would personally challenge anybody to come to me to say that they are genuinely homeless, hungry and can’t get help in Leeds.”
Harvi Saimbhi, Leeds council’s head of anti-social behaviour, said there was a wide range of support services available in Leeds to ensure that nobody needed to beg.
She added: “While many will take up our offers of assistance and stop begging, unfortunately there is a hard core of people who are determined to continue asking the public for money when they have absolutely no reason to do so. This is completely unacceptable, and it these people that specifically we are targeting in these days of action.
“I would urge anyone who is thinking of giving to someone begging in the street to not do so, and instead give their money to a variety of support services in our city, where they can be guaranteed that every penny will be used to help those genuinely in need.”
The latest initiative has won support from Leeds homeless charity St George’s Crypt.
Directors’ assistant Andrew Omond said: “We welcome a consistent approach to confronting the issues surrounding begging within the homeless and vulnerable population of Leeds.
“This three-strike system gives the opportunity to engage and hopefully will ensure that the most vulnerable are not penalised.”