Concerns have been raised that professional street beggars might be operating in Calderdale due the success Halifax becoming a tourist destination.
Members of Calderdale Council’s People Scrutiny Board were discussing the issue of begging, having considered homelessness and rough sleeping at a previous meeting.
The two are clearly separate issues – some street beggars may be homeless but that is not always the case, said a report by the council’s senior scrutiny support officer Mike Lodge.
With council officers and West Yorkshire Police officers present to offer information they considered the extent of street begging in Calderdale, the support given to street beggars, the contribution made to the issue by different agencies and what action was required to reduce street begging.
Police and officers told members there were concerns professional beggars were now operating in Calderdale, as neighbouring bigger cities became saturated and Halifax was increasingly attractive as a tourist destination.
Councillors expressed sympathy for the police over the issue of enforcement.
They also wanted to know what help could be provided to people who found themselves in difficulty and where it could be obtained.
Police officers said there was healthy pressure for alternatives to enforcement to be found and educating the public in how the police worked was key.
A Horton Housing representative said most beggars tended to be aged 25 and over and councillors also heard that it was very unusual for women to be found begging.
Council officers said both Customer First and Horton Housing referred beggars to food banks and the police added that they took beggars to Customer First to refer them into the system and information on what help was available was provided in its police station custody suites.
Members discussed empowering beggars, possibly giving them a purpose by working alongside community agencies, believing a supportive culture was needed for them and that they should be treated as any other member of the community.
Voucher schemes rather than donation of cash were a better idea but the issue was raised of how people could be prevented from reselling them.
The police advised that reselling vouchers was a criminal offence and where food parcels had been sold in licensed premises enforcement action had been brought against the premises.
Deferred payment schemes, by which people bought one drink but paid for two were another popular alternative.
Council officers added that funding was available to investigate responsible giving schemes.
Officers were asked to provide updates on street begging to a future meeting of the board.