Rochdale police column: homelessness and begging

Date published: 22 July 2019


Inspector Robert MacGregor, of the Rochdale East Neighbourhood Policing Team, on what the police are doing to tackle local issues across the borough.

This week he discusses homelessness and begging.


The reason I enjoy writing articles for Rochdale Online is because it gives me space to explain some sensitive subjects and because I believe the community use Rochdale Online to understand what is happening and to inform their opinions. I also enjoy talking about the great work, and brilliant people in the community and how proud I am to be part of the communities I cover.

I never anticipated writing an article where I knew at the outset that I was going to cause some upset and perhaps some anger as well as possibly being accused of cruelty, but that is exactly what I am going to do here.

All I ask is that you start with an open mind and trust me that my reason for writing on this subject is because I want to help vulnerable people and I need to talk to you about how your actions might be obstructing efforts to do so.

The topic I want to discuss is homelessness and begging.

In the last few weeks, I have had letters regarding an increase in begging on Kingsway Retail Park and outside shops nearby. Whilst begging is a crime, it is not a law which I think most people, or police officers, are especially interested in seeing enforced. Even if I did want to enforce the Vagrancy Act and arrest people for begging, how would the courts deal with them? Someone who is begging is unlikely to receive a fine due to having no legitimate income; a prison sentence would be excessive and a waste of public money.

Even though I do not think that enforcement is worthwhile, or what the public want to see, I do have a major problem with begging. I do not like going into a supermarket and walking past people begging. Some people reading may find that admission offensive, but I dislike it because of the misery that sits behind that act.

The beggars currently operating in and near Kingsway Retail Park have moved there from the town centre. I know the names of those who are engaging in the activity: I am very familiar with their backgrounds and their individual issues.

 

Inspector Robert MacGregor, of the Rochdale East Neighbourhood Policing Team
Inspector Robert MacGregor, of the Rochdale East Neighbourhood Policing Team

 

Now, I will move on to the part where some of you may take a dislike towards me.

Last week, I was speaking to one of the PCs on the town centre about the beggars who had moved on to Kingsway. They told me that they were speaking to one of these individuals a week earlier and that as they did so, a passing member of the public told the officer to leave the man alone and handed the man a £10 note. I know that this passer-by thinks they have done something good. They perceive that the police are picking on a vulnerable person and that they have done a good deed.

The truth is that they may as well have cut out the middleman and handed that money to the drug dealer who preys on this individual because it will be in their pocket within hours.

I know at least one of the beggars operating in Kingsway has been offered support in relation to alcohol and drug issues as well as housing but will not engage with the services who are trying to lift him out of his situation. Whilst passers-by are giving him money, he remains trapped in his situation.

Addiction is a brutal and miserable existence and with every donation on the street you are contributing to keeping these individuals trapped in that miserable life.

If you are unconvinced, then consider the same issue in another context. One of your family members goes through a traumatic experience through no fault of their own and turns to drink. They start drinking heavily to cope, but over time it starts to take over. They cannot stop. They lose their job, their marriage falls apart, you rarely see them.

Eventually they manage to stop drinking for a day, then for a week, but the addiction to alcohol is powerful and you are called by a concerned friend who has seen your family member walking into the local pub. You run down there and see them about to order a drink and take them by the arm and tell them not to, that you will support them, they are doing so well.

As you do this, the barman overhears what you are saying and pulls a pint and puts it in front of them telling them it is on the house. Your family member is vulnerable, they have nothing, they believe alcohol will make them feel better. The bar man sees that and gives them a pint in the belief that they are giving them what they want and need.

When you give money to a beggar, you are that barman.

Homelessness is an absolute tragedy. It is particularly sad when ex-servicemen and women find themselves on the streets, but there is support available. Many churches, mosques, and charitable organisations devote their efforts to trying to help these vulnerable people.

I admire that many of you want to help them as well, but you can do this most effectively by donating to a homelessness or drug and alcohol charity.

I promise that we and other partners are doing our absolutely best to lift these people out of their desperate situations; please support us to do that.


The organisation Real Change Rochdale encourages people to donate money online, which can then be accessed to help homeless people with practical items, like flat deposits or clothes for a job interview.

The money raised goes towards items like:

  • Less than £20: Bus tickets to key appointments, phone credit so people can keep in touch with support workers helping in their recovery
  • £20-100: Education or training courses, essential household items, clothes for interviews
  • Over £100: Deposit or rent, furnishings for a flat, or larger white goods such as a fridge or washing machine

You can donate to Real Change or find out more at:

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