A Councillor has raised concerns over what he has called ‘professional begging’ in and around Bedford’s car parks and said it must be dealt with urgently.
At a meeting of Bedford Borough Council on Wednesday 9 October, Conservative Cllr Roger Rigby spoke of town centre beggars ‘working shifts’ next to car park payment machines and pressuring visitors to part with their cash.
He said, “It has been made clear by the Council and our partners supporting rough sleepers that these individuals have no interest whatsoever in receiving assistance for housing and other services.
“They are not homeless; this is a professional begging operation that is clearly lucrative.”
His comments were challenged by Sam Price of the Bedford Homeless Partnership who said, “Anyone who is begging on our streets, whether they are homeless or not, deserves our help and support.
“Whilst I am not comfortable with the term “professional begging”, I would say that some people don’t want to engage with support services as their needs are being met by well-meaning members of the public.
“We have been working in partnership with the police, Bedford BID and the council to launch a scheme raising awareness of services that exist to support the homeless in our town.
“We would urge the public to donate their time by volunteering, or to donate items needed by rough sleepers, such as warm clothes, toiletries and food.
“Negative language and terminology is not helpful for these people; we need to help them to make a real change.”
Cllr Rigby questioned the Mayor’s administration as to what measures had been put in place to stop this practice and said, “I welcome the joint working between the Council and Bedfordshire Police to move on these individuals from the car parks but it needs to happen now to prevent the problem from recurring.
“I would also urge the public to donate to established local charities supporting rough sleepers and the homeless rather than giving money to individuals.”
Sam Price said, “There is a wealth of support out there for people experiencing homelessness, or addiction, or mental health issues, if they are willing or able to accept it. Please see www.bedfordhomeless.org.uk for details.”