BEGGARS arrested for the first time in Oxford will be given the chance to attend a day centre rather than being give a police caution.
The scheme has been put forward to support the Your Kindness Could Kill campaign and stop begging in the city.
Under the new measures, someone arrested by police for begging for the first time will be given an opportunity to attend city homeless day centre Steppin’ Stone and be offered help to turn their lives around, rather than receive a caution.
As part of the initiative, launched this week, prolific and aggressive beggars could be given an antisocial behaviour order.
Ben (not his real name), became homeless in April 2010 and used Steppin’ Stone to get back on his feet.
He agreed that the Oxford City Council scheme was a good idea.
He said: “I lived in a night centre and people would go out begging to get a few pounds, and they would go and spend it on alcohol straight away.
“A lot of people don’t want to deal with officialdom, it is good to refer them to Steppin’ Stone because they are a friendly face.
“Nothing is forced on you, you can take or leave the help they give you. People are a lot closer to homelessness than they really think, you can end up on the dole and go through your savings quite rapidly, alcohol respects nobody and you can end up without a house quite quickly.”
Your Kindness Could Kill advises people not to donate money to beggars, urging donations instead to organisations helping the homeless.
City council board member for housing and estate regeneration Scott Seamons said: “Begging is a criminal offence and it does remain a problem in Oxford.
“Giving money to people begging is not always beneficial and in the long term doesn’t help them off the streets. We are offering support and assistance as an alternative to enforcement action.”
Homelessness in the city is reported to be going up. In the 2013/14, 114 households were accepted by Oxford City Council as homeless in Oxford – an 11 per cent increase on the year before.
Steppin’ Stone, Magdalen Road, provides support for the homeless, vulnerably housed and people living in hostels.
Manager Rachel Parfitt said: “Of course not all beggars will spend the money on alcohol or drugs but it is a problem. One of our service users was coming here during the mornings before he started drinking for the day and we managed to help him.
“Then someone left him £20 one night and he used it to buy alcohol. He turned up the next day highly intoxicated and we could not work with him that day.
Insp Andy Thompson, of Thames Valley Police, said: “We accept that prosecution is not always the best means of breaking a cycle of behaviour.”
A caution is not a conviction but does go on someone’s criminal record.
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