There are more persistent beggars in the city centre than say a year ago, and it requires focussed attention once again.
Why people beg has many aspects, cos it’s not a living you’d choose. Lack of proper jobs, especially for young people; a social security system that cuts off young people too easily; some learning how to convincingly beg, despite having a home.
Tackling begging is harder with cuts to the Police service and to the city council’s ability to provide services.
On homelessness, the city council seeks to tackle any reason for anyone to sleep on the streets. There is a “No Second Night Out” policy and through the commissioning of Framework, we provide hostel, B&B and accommodation for all that need it, as well as services to help with health & addiction issues, benefit support and other support services. There is a daily patrol by Framework employees and council officers that starts at 4am and operates 365 days per year, going out into neighbourhoods and the city centre to find and engage with anyone sleeping rough and to provide them with support.
Whilst there has been a large increase of rough sleeping and resources are being stretched, this is not in the main what has been witnessed in recent months. Many of the individuals that are causing particular issues in the city centre, especially around the NCP car park and in and around St. Peters Church are not homeless, but have complex needs most notably addiction problems, particularly NPS (Psycho Active) drugs and are making a choice in their circumstances to live the way that they are. Their choice helps feed their addictions by begging and engaging in a variety of criminal activities. This cohort poses the biggest challenge for the council as we have very limited powers to deal with them and can only do so with the active cooperation of the Police and health services.
The problems that we are currently experiencing are a consequence of a number issues;
• Nottingham is the only local authority that has maintained its homelessness prevention strategy and as well as being the major urban area is a beacon for those that are homeless and with other complex needs;
• The police are strecthed and are no longer treating begging, vagrancy and the associated volume crime issues as a priority;
• Changes and cuts to the benefits system are creating crisis and management problems for vulnerable and low income people;
• the increased use of pyscho active drugs that are easily and cheaply available at the moment.
To tackle the issues, the city council is adopting new approaches and reviewing all strategies in relation to the issues of homelessness, begging and supporting people. At the beginning of August the portfolio holder instigated a community trigger meeting under the 2014 Anti Social Behaviour act that required all relevant and statutory partners to meet to layout their problems and for all parties to develop an action plan. The outcome of the meeting was that there was an almost unanimous decision that the biggest challenge was the persistent beggar cohort and that most effective way of dealing with them was through the Arrest, Test & Coerce strategy. This has proven to be a very effective strategy for dealing with those individuals who do not wish to willing engage with services and was in place until early last year until the government dropped the Drugs Intervention Strategy. The challenge with a return to this approach is the Police must treat the issue with some urgency and currently that is not the case. The portfolio holder is pursuing this and hopes to get a resolution.
The portfolio holder has had meetings recently with local residents and business in the city centre to discuss the issues and have agreed a number of actions that the council can undertake and also agreed to work with them to persuade the police to change their strategies.
The practical steps that the city council undertakes include:
• A weekly briefing of Housing Aid, Community Protection, Addiction Support Services and the Street Engagement Team to review all interactions with rough sleepers and beggars, develop actions for dealing with problematic individuals and assess coming needs for resources.
• A regular Street Begging Op that means that the council is pulling resources of Community Protection Officers from the neighbourhoods to increase visibility and engagement in the city centre. It makes the area less attractive for beggars and is done at irregular intervals to stop it being predictable. It takes place over several days and covers all shifts from early morning until late at night. The focus of the op is to encourage the individuals of the street and into the various support services that are available.
• Target hardening and securing council owned and public access areas that causing problems and working with private owners to do the same.
• Installation of mobile cameras to monitor and record areas of concern.
• Changing some of the commissioned support services to direct outreach work on the streets
The portfolio holder is also lobbying the Government, particularly The Home Office, to help and to develop a national strategy for dealing with drugs and complex needs issues. There is no response yet. The current situation is a significant issue that we need to resolve, however this will only occur through close working of different agencies and the Government and the city council is pursuing this vigorously.