READING Borough Council has been working with the Police and other agencies to tackle an increase in aggressive begging in the town centre.
The public have a right to walk around the town centre and use our excellent shops, pubs and clubs without being harassed for money.
Recently, there has been an increase in the number of people walking up to members of the public and asking for cash and sometimes approaching them on bikes when they are sitting outside pubs and cafes in the town centre.
It is an offence to beg in the street and it is a more serious offence to make people feel unsafe, threatened or harassed by approaching them in this way. If people are approached, they should decline politely and contact the police and explain if they felt harassed or threatened or disturbed by behaviour in a public place.
The council and police are working with local businesses to address their concerns over the matter. We have a two way radio system which enables business premises to contact the CCTV control room and report the matter to police staff in there who can talk directly to officers on the ground.
Sometimes, people begging say they are homeless that night, but we are aware that is often not the case. There is evidence that money collected can be used to purchase drink or drugs and, instead of people accepting help to deal with addiction problems, they use donations to support unhealthy life styles which can be very damaging. Public donations to people begging can in reality fuel the very problem people think they are helping with.
The Police in Reading are actively engaging with anyone who appears to be begging and advising them where they can get help and support in the town. Officers will help people to access that support and are linking in with partner agencies including Council-funded services delivered by St Mungo’s outreach team and the Iris Partnership for those experiencing drug and alcohol addiction.
People who are begging are being reminded that begging is a criminal offence and warned that enforcement action will be taken if they continue to beg persistently in spite of warnings and offers of support. Our partnership approach is to try to understand the causes behind people’s behaviour and offer help and solutions but we will not tolerate local people being abused or threatened by aggressive or persistent behaviour.
The Council invests £1.5 million a year in supporting people out of homelessness in the town in partnership with charities and faith groups. However, many of the people who beg in the town are not homeless and many come from outside Reading to beg in town. The majority of people who are homeless do not beg.
Cllr Liz Terry, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Neighbourhoods, said:
“Aggressive begging has become an increasing problem in the town centre and a lot of people have complained about feeling intimidated and harassed as they go about their business.
“We need to deal with this problem with our partners in a way that ensures those people who are begging who genuinely need help and support are offered advice and know where they can receive it.
“It is important we highlight the distinction between beggars and rough sleepers. The Council has a good record of providing support for rough sleepers and homeless people but we will not tolerate residents being harassed by aggressive begging, often carried out by people who have accommodation and live outside the borough.”
Charities including Launchpad Reading, CIRDIC and Faith Christian Group have recently highlighted this problem and encouraged members of the public not to give money to beggars and instead to support the charities in Reading that provide appropriate professional support to individuals.
Ian Caren, Chief Executive of Launchpad Reading, said:
“Please don’t give money to those begging in the town, we encourage you to support charities in Reading that provide appropriate professional support dependant on a person’s individual needs.
“Money given to those begging in the town is highly likely to be used to fund an addiction to Class A drugs such as heroin. Launchpad clients who used to beg, tell us this is what they would spend money on.”
The Council remains committed to supporting homeless people and rough sleepers.
We commission St Mungo’s to provide a street outreach team to support rough sleepers into treatment and accommodation throughout the year. We also pay for a number of services to support and accommodate local single homeless people, including the provision of more than 200 supported accommodation beds. Also, mobile support service for people in their own homes, operated by homeless charity Launchpad Reading, which supports vulnerable people who need help to retain their tenancy or with resettlement.
In freezing temperatures a severe weather action plan becomes active and emergency beds in hostels or B&B’s are offered alongside extra support and advice. FAITH Christian Group also operates Bed for the Night which offers 18 bed spaces for homeless people with local connections throughout January and February.
The Council and its partners focus on getting rough sleepers off the street and into accommodation, individuals rough sleeping often have complex and multiple needs. Whilst the Council and other organisations provide a range of services, offers of accommodation are not always taken up, but the Council will nevertheless continue to offer help to people every day.
The Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner also provide funding to alcohol and drug treatment service IRiS Reading.
World Homeless Day
A group of Reading’s charities, community organisations and Council commissioned services are joining forces on World Homeless Day on 10th October to inform people what they do to help homeless people.
BCHA, CIRDIC, Faith Christian Group, Greyfriars Church, Hamble Court-Riverside, HOLT, St Mungo’s, Launchpad, Lifespring Church, Providence Chapel, IRIS, Reading Minster and the Salvation Army are all involved in helping the homeless of Reading.
They will be running an exhibition in Broad Street between 9am and 3pm on 10th October with stalls to showcase how they work to help the homeless in Reading.