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Homeless charities urge Welsh councils to rethink approach to begging

Credit: PA

A row has broken out between homeless charities and local councils over whether money should be given to homeless people begging on the street.

Homeless charities Crisis and Shelter Cymru have come together to urge councils to rethink their support of schemes discouraging the public from giving money to people who are begging.

The charities say more and more authorities are introducing 'diverted giving' schemes which encourage the public to donate to a scheme rather than giving money directly to people on the streets.

There are various schemes up and running at councils across Wales. In Cardiff the 'Give DIFFerently' scheme was introduced in March, while Swansea launched their 'Have a Heart - Give Smart' scheme at the start of the year. At other councils, similar schemes have been introduced or are in development.

The latest council to introduce the form of giving is Neath Port Talbot. The scheme works by asking people to donate to local homeless charities via official collection boxes.

In a statement, the council said giving money to those who are begging can 'actually discourage them from seeking the professional help they really need.'

But Shelter Cymru and Crisis are warning that these schemes could leave homeless people more vulnerable.

They say it is often extremely difficult for homeless people to apply for the funds unless they go through a support worker. This means money doesn't always reach the people who are most in need.

The charities also believe the schemes could lead to greater intolerance towards those begging on the street by suggesting that the public should not give money to them.

Shelter Cymru said that the money spent setting up these schemes would be better spent addressing barriers preventing homeless people from getting help.

Street homelessness and begging are not easy issues to solve and councils will have the best of intentions when they choose to support such schemes but we are concerned about the possible negative impacts of such schemes, both on people who are begging and on the public's understanding of the realities of homelessness.

If we had perfect services and a strong safety net then diverted giving schemes might be less of a concern. However, in Wales, we cannot say, at the moment, that this is the case. The money spent on theses schemes could be put to better use to address some of the barriers that are preventing people from accessing assistance.

The conversation has to shift from the symptoms of homelessness to looking at the causes and solutions. The current focus on begging puts all the blame on the individual

– John Puzey, Director of Shelter Cymru