Police urged to get tough on beggars

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Home Affairs Correspondent

Police and voluntary workers are to be urged to get tough with vagrants, drunks and beggars, in an attempt to clean up the streets.

The Government is reviewing vagrancy and other laws to see if police have sufficient powers to deal with aggressive beggars. At the same time it is planning to set targets for hostels and out-reach workers to get long-term and needy homeless into accommodation and treatment centres.

The proposals come just a month after Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, ran into controversy when he said there should be more effort to clear the streets of aggressive car windscreen cleaners, graffiti artists, beggars, drunks and drug addicts.

They were spelled out in the 70-page consultation document yesterday, which said: "Those who intimidate others or who attempt fraudulently to procure charitable contributions must expect to be prosecuted. Begging is distressing for members of the public and visitors alike."

The moves form part of a planned extension to the Government's Rough Sleeping Initiative - a widely acclaimed homelessness programme that has succeeded in reducing the numbers sleeping on London's street from more than 1,000 six years ago to about 270 now.

But while continued funding for the programme was yesterday welcomed by welfare groups and charities, there were concerns about the proposal to "get tough" with those who are determined to remain on the streets.

The Government paper reveals that as many as half of them are heavy drinkers, around one- third mentally ill and one in six on drugs.

Yesterday Sarah Moseley, a spokeswoman for Centrepoint, the charity for homeless young people, said: "The success of the scheme has depended upon close co-operation between police, the voluntary agencies and the homeless themselves. To suddenly start forcing people off the streets and into accommodation will only be counterproductive."

However, the paper makes it clear that ministers do not believe that resorting to the criminal law offers a long term solution to the problem and that it would only form one part of a "multi-agency campaign" to solve the homeless problem.

It invites views on more effective outreach and resettlement work and the provision of "wet" shelters - hostels where alcohol can be drunk, an incentive to get those with drink problems off the streets.

The paper also requests information and views from local authorities and others outside central London to see if its success can be extended.