LETTER: Complexities of street life

I am deeply concerned with regard to the comments and conclusions drawn in Annemarie Field’s opinion piece ‘Think before you give money to beggars’ [Herald, January 27] resulting perhaps in a negative reaction towards people living on the streets of Eastbourne.

There is undoubtedly sense in the argument about avoiding locking people in cycles of addiction and deprivation and giving money to homeless support charities instead. But overall I think the article grossly over-simplifies the complexities surrounding the issues of homelessness, begging and ‘street life’ itself and underplays the very serious shortage of council, other affordable and hostel-type accommodation and the insecurity and reduction in private sector renting preventing people from becoming housed.

While there are more people sitting out on the street by day (whether or not they are actively begging) than can be found sleeping rough in Eastbourne and its environs at night they will most likely be living a marginal existence perhaps in temporary accommodation or ‘sofa surfing’ and rather than a ‘lifestyle choice’ people do come and go and move on in their lives. Even for those few who could perhaps be regarded as ‘professional beggars’, £100 on a day, besides some extra generosity around Christmas, would seem to be at the extreme end of the spectrum with most recipients not receiving anything close and many shoppers already preferring to give in kind with food or a hot drink. In any case, the more beggars there are the greater the competition will be for people’s generosity!

While many homeless people do not actually beg, any money they do receive may be their only source of income and could be spent on basic necessities or services besides being ‘blown’ on drink or drugs on which some only become dependent due to the stress of living on the street while others do manage to stay ‘clean’.

It would seem unfair to deprive people of all cash donations due to the unscrupulous behaviour of a few as occurs at any level of society or because it will not result in lasting change when it might just make life that little bit easier in the here and now.

Nor is it always hard to tell if someone is genuinely a rough sleeper such as evidence of ‘kit’ with lack of secure storage places for personal possessions a huge problem for homeless people.

I believe most homeless appreciate the services available to them such as hot meals and showers and giving them cash doesn’t deter from using them, but there are those who will not due to mental health problems or inter-personal conflict with others.

Likewise the night shelters may be too noisy and unsuitable for those who are most marginalised and who might not be accepted in any case, and it is here that the outreach services of the organisation Warming Up The Homeless – run entirely by volunteers – really comes into its own in bridging the gap distributing drinks, food packs, clothing and other practical help in Eastbourne, Hastings and Bexhill.

I have met people who have volunteered in the night shelters and my understanding is that uptake is generally good if not to full capacity due perhaps, for example, to people not turning up on the night but with different attendees across the week suggesting some competition for places which must be booked and allocated the day before.

While I appreciate and respect Annemarie’s overall concern for people’s welfare I believe that some of her comments could be misleading and that this all comes down to using one’s discretion and treating people as individuals.


Longstone Road