Photo: Alex Proimos via Flickr
Photo: Alex Proimos via Flickr

Isaac Firestone argues that the recent anti-begging campaign in Lincoln is not addressing the root causes of the problem.

If you are a resident of Lincoln, you may like me have noticed posters encouraging residents not to give their money directly to the homeless people begging in the city.

The posters tell residents that they are better off giving their money to local homeless shelters such as the NOMAD Trust, BeAttitude, and Framework, an organization operating in several counties. (I would like to make it clear that I am not opposed to anyone wishing to make donations to these groups.) And although I admire the selfless work of these organizations I am skeptical of the motives and commitment of the campaigns two principle sponsors.

According to Lincoln’s Business Improvement Group, one of the principle organizations behind the campaign, the aim of it is “to give any change to the charity boxes placed throughout the city centre, rather than into the hand of the individual who more often than not will be spending it on their next drink or fix of drugs”.

Yet the claim that beggars are predominantly addicts of one type or another is directly contradicted by one of the campaign partners Framework, who on their website claim only 20% of those seeking are seeking help from an addiction.

First of all, it is important to analyze the motives and historical tactics and attitudes displayed by the principle actors within the campaign.

Lincolnshire Police’s history of dealing with begging is particularly disturbing. Earlier this year they launched Operation Applaud to “address anti-social behaviour and offences related to street drinking and begging in Lincoln”. Their plan was to use a “five-stage” system that included the issuing of ASBOs and threat of criminal prosecution against persistent offenders.

This plan was chosen despite the fact that one of the leading homelessness charities and researchers, Crisis, described attempts to criminalise begging as “ineffective, costly and which doesn’t solve the root problems associated with begging”.

I frankly cannot understand the logic of criminalizing vulnerable, utilizing the court system as a means of plunging the homeless further into financial ruin and exposing vulnerable people to serious distress.

The attitudes of Lincolnshire’s police force can also be brought into question. A Lincolnshire Echo article from May 1 of this year recounted how officers in the force believed that “most of those who ask for cash have homes, are on benefits and ‘have no need to beg'”.

Once again, this has been contradicted by Crisis research, which estimates that 80% of beggars are indeed homeless. It is a rather strange idea that anybody who doesn’t have to beg would risk arrest, possible violence and the obvious humiliation for the measly amount that can be made begging.

The other principle actor in this campaign is the Lincoln Business Improvement Group. The groups’ motivation for the campaign does not appear to have anything to do with the welfare of unfortunate people who are reduced to begging, but rather as a means of tackling a problem that Yvette Hall, the group’s security coordinator, described as “the eyesore of people begging”.

Unfortunately, I cannot support a campaign sponsored by organisations that have done much to spread misinformation and dehumanising rhetoric about homeless people.

It is clear from the previous tactics and stated attitudes of the police that they care more about the preservation of local business interests than they do about the welfare of human beings that they have a duty to protect.

The truth is that there are numerous reasons why people become homeless and feel the need to beg in the streets.

Some are veterans, heroes let down by the state. Many have serious mental and physical disabilities and have fallen through the safety net of the welfare state. Some, although not the vast majority as this campaign suggests have various serious addictions.

Very few are out there out of greed. All of these people deserve to treated with respect and compassion.

I will continue to give my spare change to the homeless of Lincoln until the police and local government can come up with plan that truly addresses the route problems associated with begging.

It seems to me this campaign is about one thing: removing the everyday public reminder of the poverty that still exists in this very rich country. Why do they wish to do this? Simply because it’s bad for business.

Isaac Firestone studies politics at the University of Lincoln.

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