The Crime Prevention Website

That was the matrix sign displayed by Lambeth Police outside Waterloo Station yesterday and according to the Evening Standard some Londoners are furious.

According to the newspaper report Verity Nevitt, Goldsmiths University’s Labour Women’s Officer, said: “This is criminalising & demonising people who are genuinely homeless & depriving them of their only source of income.”

And even the Mayor of London got onto Twitter and said “what a disgraceful sign the @metpoliceuk installed outside Waterloo... is this how we treat #homelessness, as #beggars ???”

Another tweeted “For anyone in doubt about the sheer evil and vindictiveness of the police, this sign appeared outside Waterloo Station.”

Lambeth police issued the following statement:

“Following concerns raised by the local community, begging in the Waterloo area is now a community and policing priority for local police. Our research has shown that some of our most prolific beggars are not homeless and have accommodation. Some have a history of drug use which is funded, in part, by begging. We are working with our partners to support and assist beggars as well as enforce illegal activity and raise awareness of this issue to those that use Waterloo using dot matrix signs.”

Blimey! What a furore over a sign!

Now let me tell you what charities have been saying over the years about this very problem. A quick search on the internet reveals the following and you can do the same thing.......

Mike Nicholas of homelessness charity Thames Reach said in March 2016 “If you give a beggar money, it ends up lining the pockets of drug dealers, and potentially killing the person through an overdose." Metro newspaper

Jeremy Swain, chief executive of the London homelessness charity Thames Reach (His predecessor?), said much the same thing in 2013 The Guardian

This appeared on the BBC UK News Page in November 2015

Almost all money given to beggars in Newcastle city centre is being spent on alcohol and drugs, a charity has warned.

People begging in the city "can earn £200-300 a day" - with the vast majority going to people who are not actually homeless, Changing Lives said.

Northumbria Police receives about 160 complaints about beggars every month.

The city council has launched a campaign urging people not to give handouts.

Stephen Bell, chief executive of Changing Lives which provides support to vulnerable people, said: "Our frontline workers have seen four beggars come in one car and then go and get their pitches.

"People are starting to get aggressive and they see this as being very lucrative.

"Our evidence is people are using the money they receive from begging to either fund their drug addiction or buy alcohol. Never give money to beggars."

Newcastle City Council said 96% of people summonsed to appear in court for begging this year had a registered home address.

My own police experience about this subject is rather vast as in 2000 I was involved in a project in Bloomsbury and Soho dealing with the very same thing. The ‘targets’ in this case were more specifically drug dealers and users, a tiny number of whom were homeless. In this instance the councils and police had been inundated with complaints from residents – yes people live above all those nice shops in Seven Dials – about the huge number of used and discarded syringes dumped everywhere along with urine and human excrement and the intimidation they felt by the presence of the beggars.

Something had to be done and so we set about enforcing the law by observing and arresting the drug dealers and by designing out the opportunities to deal and to take drugs. We moved forward recessed doors, we secured accesses into basements, we erected gates to stop people getting into the backs of commercial premises. It all culminated into a book about the subject called Crime Opportunity Profiling of Streets, written by yours truly.

We worked with a couple of the local churches and charities and the NHS who laid on a needle exchange van and did their best to get the users into treatment and the council put up sharps boxes all over the place.

Most of the beggars we dealt with in Bloomsbury were daily visitors and we know this because we followed them. We saw them get on buses to go home at the end of the day or jump on the tube. We had one couple who used to come down from Northampton every day!  

The result of the 18 month campaign was excellent. Yes, we moved some of the problem elsewhere, but importantly we gave the local residents some well-deserved respite from the daily tasks of removing stoned rough sleepers from their doorways, sweeping up sh1t and needles and so on. The businesses too were extremely grateful and reported renewed interest in the shopping district.

My best success there was the cleanup and reopening of a pocket park that had become unusable after a child was pierced by a discarded syringe

So I don’t appreciate messages of the type the London Mayor sends out especially since the police are only saying exactly what many of the charities are saying and let me repeat it.......

If you want to help homeless people give your money to the charities that support them. Remember too that a lot of the beggars are not homeless at all and most of the homeless don’t beg.

It’s a complicated problem and is one that requires a great deal of partnership working – Police, Charities, Residents, Businesses, Local Councils, NHS, National Government to name just a few.

But please don’t give the police a hard time. They’re doing their best with very limited resources.

I shall now go and lie down.

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