Public urged to give help instead of money to beggars on the streets

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The Independent Online

Measures to end the "soup kitchen culture" said to encourage homeless people to stay on the streets will be announced this week.

Measures to end the "soup kitchen culture" said to encourage homeless people to stay on the streets will be announced this week.

The Government's Rough Sleepers Unit will warn the public not to give money or food to people sleeping on the streets but to offer them help, advice and support instead.

The unit will call for an army of "homeless helpers" to help those in need to rejoin mainstream society, as well as recruit rough sleepers to work in shelters and encourage them to do community work.

Louise Casey, head of the unit, will repeat the claim that unco-ordinated soup runs and handouts are not the answer and call on people to give time, not money. "We need to get people in the wider community to help rough sleepers," she said. "Simply taking help out to them on the streets is validation that that is where they have to be for the rest of their lives. It's mistaken goodwill."

But her call to get more people to participate in helping the homeless comes as a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that the general public abuse and victimise many rough sleepers.

In the first study of its kind, Unsafe Streets shows rough sleepers are 15 times more likely to be attacked, with two-thirds of all assaults against them committed by the general public. It shows that nearly four in five rough sleepers have been victims of crime on at least one occasion, with nearly half assaulted and more than one-third wounded on at least one occasion. Only one in five rough sleepers reports the crimes to the police because most do not believe they will be taken seriously.

"This research shows conclusively that the streets are an unsafe place for homeless people," said Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Crisis, which commissioned the report. "In some extreme cases homeless people have even been murdered on our streets. But other kinds of victimisation are likely to exacerbate homeless people's vulnerability and further damage their self-esteem, making it harder for them to regain control."

The report calls for an end to the "revolving door" treatment of homeless people who get shunted between different agencies and recommends closer co-operation between the police, outreach teams and the criminal system.

"The police and particularly the courts need to be integrated into local planning and service delivery so rough sleepers can be diverted away from unproductive enforcement and processing through the criminal justice system," said Scott Ballintyne, author of the report.

"The way we work now re-enforces the exclusion of rough sleepers and helps to keep them on the streets."

The official figure for rough sleepers in Britain stands at 1,850. The new measures are designed to reduce this by two-thirds by 2002.