Suffolk Police and partner agencies in Bury St Edmunds are launching a joint ‘Your Kindness Could Kill’ campaign to address the issue of begging in the town.
Earlier this year police began to receive a number of reports from both local residents and shop owners of persistent and often aggressive begging.
A number of individuals were identified as being responsible for these issues, the majority of which were found to have drug or alcohol dependencies and were begging to fund their habits.
Police in the town have been working with partner agencies regarding the welfare of these individuals, including St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District (BID), along with alcohol and drug support organisations and social housing providers.
As part of the strategy to deal with the issue and to raise awareness among the general public, ‘Your Kindness Could Kill’ posters will be put up in begging hotspot areas around the town.
This is reference to the fact that people begging will often use the money to buy alcohol or drugs, but if begging became less financially viable for them, they would be more likely to engage with support agencies that can help them with their addictions.
Acting Inspector Christian Chisnall, of Bury St Edmunds Safer Neighbourhood Team, said: “We were contacted by concerned members of the public about an increasing problem of persistent begging - which at times was becoming aggressive - in the town centre.
“As a resident of Bury St Edmunds myself I am proud of the compassion and generosity of locals. However, the aim of this campaign is to educate people that giving money to those who beg is often not the best way to help them.
“The individuals identified in Bury are either not homeless or could be housed if they chose to work with partner agencies. Almost all of them are alcohol and/or drug dependent and the money given to them by members of the public is mostly used to fund these habits, preventing them from engaging with agencies that could offer help.”
Councillor Robert Everitt, St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s cabinet member for families and fommunities, added: “It is easy to feel that by giving money to beggars we are showing compassion and helping those less fortunate than ourselves, but the grim reality is that we are often only helping finance their alcohol or drug addiction and preventing them from seeking the help that they truly need.
“Give money not to the beggars, but to the charities that can help to make a real difference to these people’s lives.”
Mark Cordell, chief executive officer of Our Bury St Edmunds BID, said: “Aggressive begging can have a very detrimental impact upon our local businesses and as their representative I approached the police about enforcement activity.
“I was very reassured that a number of agencies had been working with these vulnerable individuals to address the issue, but this had been unsuccessful as begging was proving to be financially rewarding.
“By asking the public to not give money to those begging, this will hopefully motivate them to work with agencies to address the issues in their lives and enable our members to trade unhindered.”
If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough, or are in need of help yourself, phone 0300 500 0914 or visit www.streetlife.org.uk