Leeds has a problem.
Walk anywhere across the city and you can see it for yourself. A person-shaped sleeping bag here, a tent there, an outstretched hand or a paper cup proffered politely (or not) ready to receive your spare change.
It is debatable whether or not these people are truly “homeless”, and it is questionable whether some are really rough sleeping or just setting up a tent on Briggate for a day’s “professional” begging. But this arguing over semantics seems incredibly petty when people are dying on our streets.
More than 100 people have lost their lives on the UKs streets since October.
This is not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable that workers, shoppers and visitors to our city have to run the gauntlet of beggars, rough sleepers and drug abusers. It makes all of us feel uncomfortable, vulnerable or callous as we walk by - even those who spare some change, buy the odd sandwich or give time or money to the many charities working hard to support those on the streets and help them to get off the streets.
Throughout this week the YEP will look at this city’s apparent growing numbers of street beggars and rough sleepers. We start by looking at those who have died this year, and we fully support the Dying Homeless project and ask readers to join us in helping ensure no such future deaths go unrecorded.
We need to understand why and how people end up on our streets and how best we, as individuals and as a society, can help ensure that nobody has to fall through the cracks to end up there.
Whatever name we use - rough sleepers, beggars, homeless people - they are all vulnerable human beings and should be treated as such.
Our week-long series has two aims, one is to highlight the issue and the underlying problems people on the streets face, the second is to look at what is the best way to stop it. Ultimately we would like to see no-one begging or living on the streets.
But in order to get there we have to make sure every person is spoken to and offered the right help. We need to engage with people and empower them to get whatever help and support they need - only then can enforcement action be considered reasonable.
We think Leeds deserves this, and we think this city is mature enough to tackle this problem and make a difference.