Public 'naive' to hand out cash to homeless, Peterborough City Councillor says

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People ‘don’t realise the harm they're doing’, he added

Handing out cash to homeless people is well-meaning but “naive”, a Peterborough City Council (PCC) representative has said.

Councillor John Fox (Peterborough First) said at a council meeting last month that the public have their “heart in the right place” but “don’t realise the harm they’re doing” when they give money to people begging.

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His comments came as PCC housing manager Sarah Scase said that her team will “campaign to educate members of the public” about the issue this year.

Peterborough City Council discussed homelessness at a meeting in JanuaryPeterborough City Council discussed homelessness at a meeting in January
Peterborough City Council discussed homelessness at a meeting in January

“Don’t give money to people who are begging,” she said at the meeting.

“Please, please, please, if you want to support rough sleeping, give it via the Safer Off the Streets campaign”.

Safer Off the Streets is a partnership between PCC and numerous charities and homeless organisations which funds the Garden House, a day shelter in Peterborough where homeless people can find further support services.

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Council 'smashing it' on rough sleeping

Ms Scase continued that her team and partners are “smashing it in relation to rough sleeping”, with just 19 people in Peterborough without any form of accommodation, which she was aware of, at the time of the meeting.

But more people may “portray themselves as rough sleepers during the day”, councillor Rylan Ray (Conservatives) added.

“I live close to the city centre and, in particular in warmer weather, you have days in the city centre where it looks like there’s a lot more than 19 people,” he said.

Ms Scase responded that while some people may believe they have legitimate reasons for begging, the council will give homeless people "every opportunity to stop that very destructive behaviour”.

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But while she was positive about Peterborough’s rough sleeping statistics, the picture is very different when it comes to providing longer-term accommodation for those seeking help.

A report presented to the council noted that approximately 100 new people apply for social housing each week against a backdrop of around 10 properties per week being advertised as available.

The PCC housing team confirmed that there was more than 2,000 people on the housing register last month and that, according to housing director Sean Evans, it's “becoming more and more difficult” for the council to “find solutions”.

The city must rise to a particular challenge.

Peterborough has highest rate of rough sleepers in the region

According to Shelter, Peterborough has the highest rate of rough sleepers in the East of England and one of the highest rates of homelessness overall.

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The charity found that there were an average of 36 people sleeping on the streets on a given night last year, more than anywhere else in the region.

Using Government statistics, they also found that Peterborough had among the most adults (around 900) and children (around 30) in temporary accommodation, behind only Luton and Basildon.

PCC says in its report that its focus for homelessness this year will be “shifting further to early help provisions" to prevent homelessness.

“This is essential as we start to see the real impacts of the cost-of-living crisis impacting on crisis services," it added.

Again this presents a challenge,

Since April last year, council officers were able to prevent homelessness in less than 15 per cent of households who had lost their home or were threatened with homelessness.

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