OUT IN THE FIELD: Think before you give money to beggars

A homeless man in Eastbourne town centre this week
A homeless man in Eastbourne town centre this week
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There is absolutely no reason why anyone should be sleeping on the streets of Eastbourne.

There. I have said it. And before there are calls for me to publicly flogged outside the Town Hall, let me give you an insight into my thinking as after all, everybody can see there are more and more homeless people – or to be more specific, beggars targeting shoppers and visitors – in Eastbourne at the moment.

Not many residents will know that a night shelter exists in the town during December, January and February, seven nights a week and is located at various church halls across the borough, all within walking distance of the town centre.

Not once this season has it been full – even on the coldest of nights. Vulnerable people can go there from 8pm-8am and have their own bed, warmth, food and company. The only restriction is that they are not drunk or high on drugs as that risks the safety of other clients and volunteers.

During the day there are at least two day centres where people can go for food, help and support. You will find genuinely homeless people at the shelter and at the day centres accessing services and getting help from agencies to get themselves off the streets.

What we have on the streets of Eastbourne is, in the majority, professional beggars who are making up to £100 a day, many of whom come from other areas to benefit from the generous nature of our town. Most people who beg are not rough sleepers and have accommodation.

So what can be done? I don’t buy into the argument that the police and council should be sorting this problem out. We also have to be responsible as a society and giving beggars money just encourages the problem.

Because these people are earning so much money they are not going to seek help – if they genuinely need it that is. While I would never want to dissuade people from showing compassion and being charitable, it gets on my twig when I see people tossing coins into begging bowls. For starters, where is that money going? Money given to people on the street is often used to buy alcohol or drugs, feeding addiction and trapping people in a cycle of begging.

Giving cash to someone does nothing to help them break out of the cycle they’re in, keeps them away from services that can help and does nothing to help them get off the streets or improve their quality of life.

It can be a quick and easy way to make YOU feel like you’ve made a positive difference in someone’s life, but is very unlikely to make any lasting change. If people want to do something to help, buy them a cup of tea or coffee or a sandwich but don’t give cash.

There are also far better ways of supporting the most vulnerable people in our society and one way of ensuring people’s generosity finds its way to those who need it most is by donating to the charities that help genuinely homeless and vulnerable people in Eastbourne like the Salvation Army and Matthew 25.

There is a real generosity of spirit in Eastbourne but we want people to keep giving generously and in a more appropriate way. Please think before you give.

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