OPINION: Hot Issue - Should charities discourage people giving to beggars?

A new advertising campaign from Thames Reach Bondway implies that money given to people who beg is likely to be spent fuelling drug habits, and any money would be better spent if it were donated directly to charity. But do campaigns such as this further reinforce negative ideas of homelessness with the public?

Howard Sinclair, chief executive, Broadway - NO

Homelessness charities should at all times harness the public's concerns for people who beg. Ideally this should be via supporting agencies that provide effective and accessible interventions and services. But we do believe it is better for people to engage with homeless people rather than to turn their backs.

However, the danger of focusing the debate in this simplistic way is it presents a prejudicial view of homeless people, creating a negative, two-dimensional image of what are often very complex lives and reinforces a whole raft of public misconceptions. Far better, the public should be informed of the difficulties in accessing services from the street rather than be led towards the view that everyone to whom they give money will use it for drugs.

Many people beg out of basic necessity or because it is the 'least-worst' option available to them. The question we should be asking is why do some people feel they have no alternative but to beg on the street?

Jeremy Swain, chief executive, Thames Reach Bondway - YES

The cop-out answer is to say the public need to make their own minds up on the subject and not be pressurised by homelessness charities. This would be a dereliction of duty by front-line homelessness agencies, which are well aware most money raised from the public in this way is spent on hard drugs. Thames Reach Bondway's street workers suggest this figure is at least 75 per cent.

We must make it crystal clear that giving to those who beg is not a benign act but can, at the extreme, lead to people overdosing and losing their lives. Our obligations towards the giving public on this matter are particularly strong as these are people genuinely concerned about homelessness - in other words, our natural supporters.

We must offer alternatives, such as giving to legitimate charities working with homeless people and drug users. The Government needs to do much more to ensure rapid access to drug treatment but it would be disastrous to hold back from being explicit with the public about where their generosity can lead until such time as speedier treatment is available.

Shaks Ghosh, chief executive, Crisis - NO

We believe it is entirely a matter of personal choice whether or not to give to beggars. To discourage people risks confusing them about the true nature of homelessness by portraying people who beg as nuisance criminals unworthy of support.

We need to raise awareness that homelessness is growing and hundreds of thousands of hidden homeless people are leading miserable lives in hostels, squats or 'sofa surfing' in friends' houses. With few options out of this, many are forced to spend their days on the streets. The language of the anti-social behaviour agenda is increasingly painting a negative picture of beggars. They are already marginalised people who are being pushed even further to the fringes of society, many with drug or alcohol addictions or mental health problems.

At Crisis we make it clear there are many ways to support homeless people including giving time to volunteer and taking part in fundraising activities.

But I don't feel admonishing people for giving to beggars is the right way to help them understand homelessness.

David Devoy, head of hostels and services, St Mungo's - YES

Charities that deliver services directly to people sleeping rough can help the public to understand how their generosity can be most effective.

It is the choice of individuals to decide how and to whom they give their money. We know that giving money to people who beg is well intentioned, but may encourage street lifestyles.

The public realises charities like St Mungo's deal effectively with the problems surrounding homelessness - including alcohol, drug and mental health issues. They trust our experience in delivery of care services and so it is our responsibility to keep them informed to realise their good intentions. This is why St Mungo's has launched successful alternative giving campaigns in the City, Camden, Holborn and Lambeth.

It is vital public education campaigns are approached with sensitivity and acknowledge that many homeless people do not beg and those who do are truly in a desperate situation.

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