It is hoped that the intiative – using biodegradable chalk that washes off after a while – will help explain to members of the public how much support there is for people who sleep rough in the city and how members of the public can help.
Cllr Rob Hannaford, Lead Councillor for Housing and Customer Access, said: “If people realised that there is support in Exeter in terms of emergency accommodation and regular food and drink for people on the street, they may think twice about giving money direct to those who are begging and instead donate to the charities that provide the support.”
The initiative is being carried out by Exeter City Council in partnership with Devon and Cornwall Police, Bournemouth Church Housing Association and has the backing of other charities and support agencies in the city.
Among the pavement messages are:
PLEASE CONSIDER GIVING DIRECTLY TO CHARITY AND NOT TO PEOPLE WHO BEG
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT A LOCAL CHARITY?
There have been a number of complaints from people living or working in Exeter or visiting the city about unwanted attention from people who persistently beg, often when they are about to enter shops or draw money out of cash dispensers.
Cllr Hannaford added: “There are lots of reasons why people beg for money. We understand that they may have complex needs and issues such as problematic drug use and this is why we are engaging with them in an appropriate way.
“Our message is ‘please don’t give directly to people begging’. Begging is a criminal offence and there is support for people who are sleeping rough on the streets like hostels and place that provide free meals throughout the day.”
The City Council is asking people to instead donate money to a number of charities that work with the homeless in Exeter. One of those is Bournemouth Church Housing Association (BCHA), who carry out regular checks on rough sleepers in the city offering support and advice alongside the City Council.
Adrian Staegemann, Co-ordinator of BCHA’s Street Homeless Outreach Team, said: “We are pleased to be supporting Exeter City Council with this campaign, and hope it will help those people who want to support the homeless people of Exeter, to know the many alternative ways in which they can do so.
“We work closely with Exeter City Council and other agencies to provide a variety of services and interventions for people rough sleeping, helping them to shelter from the streets and access nutritious hot food, warm clothing and medical help.”
David Morgan, of The Big Issue, said: “Every Big Issue vendor must sign a code of conduct before they are allowed to sell. They are then given the opportunity to work for their money in the same way as any other independent trader. Many of our vendors have come from a back ground of begging and are blown away by the support of the general public who have seen them begging in the past. This campaign is about helping people out of a bad situation and encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions.”
Devon and Cornwall Police said that they had received a number of complaints over the last 12 months about people aggressively begging in Exeter.
Inspector Tanya Youngs, said: “We are supporting this multi agency initiative following requests from the local community to reduce the number of people asking for money on the streets.
She added “Exeter is fortunate in that it has numerous charities and supporting bodies who help homeless people and those in need.”
Anyone who has seen someone begging or has been a victim of aggressive or intimidating begging can report it to the police by contacting 101.
The Devon Drug and Alcohol Action Team are also backing the campaign. Kristian Tomblin, Drug and Alcohol Team Manager, said: “Any regular visitor to Exeter City Centre will be familiar with many of the faces of people begging on our City’s streets. They may also have noticed some new faces over the last year.
“Giving money to people who are begging reinforces this lifestyle choice and makes it more difficult for people to make other healthier choices.”
Shops and businesses in Exeter are supporting the initiative: David Shawyer, Chairman of the City Centre Management Partnership, said: “Aggressive begging, particularly when shoppers and visitors are about to enter a shop or restaurant or are at a cash point, leaves visitors feeling at best very uncomfortable. We want Exeter to be a welcoming and friendly city, with visitors always wanting to return. I welcome this campaign and would encourage both visitors and city residents alike to avoid giving money to those begging, but rather to support those charities that work so hard to give opportunity to those who find themselves on the street.”
Joe Hill, owner of Artigiano, said: “It’s really important that Exeter visitors feel comfortable and welcome in the city centre throughout the day and evening. Aggressive begging means that our visitors all too often don’t feel welcome and may well not return for a second visit. I really hope that this campaign ensures people avoid giving money to those begging on our streets, but instead support the great work of organisations working to help people in need to improve their lives.”
Cllr Hannaford added: “We recognise that those begging do need help but paying them direct could be doing more harm than good. If anyone wants to make a difference they can make a donation to one of the support agencies that help the homeless in Exeter.”
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