In recent weeks, Eastern Europeans have appeared on Ludlow’s streets. They are said to be Romanian and sit on Church Street and Tower Street. They beg with empty coffee cups.
These beggars are not homeless in a conventional sense. They are clean and have no baggage or sleeping bag. They arrive and depart Ludlow by car. But the people involved could still be vulnerable. What should we do?
From what I know so far, this is begging as a form of work, not as a way of coping with homelessness. West Mercia Police tell me there are similar begging operations in their area.
The people involved may nevertheless be vulnerable. They may have ‘managers’ that control their begging and take most of the income. They may have fallen though the widening gaps in the benefits system.
It has been an offence to beg in a public place for nearly 200 years, under the Vagrancy Act. In 2003, Home Secretary David Blunkett made begging a recordable offence by the police.
I have never been comfortable with treating begging as a criminal offence. I have no doubt that some beggars spend their days on the streets as an easy way of earning income. Some will be exploitative not vulnerable. But in Ludlow, we mostly witness genuine homelessness, often men struggling after leaving the army.
Most people begging on Ludlow’s streets will have mental health problems. Drugs and alcohol addiction will be commonplace. Many will be sleeping rough. Some will be passing through on a restless journey without a destination. At least a few will be the hidden homeless, sofa surfing or staying with friends. They will be struggling to get or hold down a job.
The appearance of East Europeans on our streets is rather different. There is a suspicion that they may not be in need, as has been reported from elsewhere in the country.
I would urge people to treat our visitors kindly. It is a personal choice whether to donate money but in this instance, I would advise against it.
If you are concerned about a homeless person, please report the circumstances through Streetlink. If you are concerned about antisocial behaviour or crime, please contact the police on 101.
Shrewsbury has taken a rather different approach to homelessness. Three days ago, a public space protection order came into force banning a range of antisocial offences, including leaving personal possessions unattended. That makes it hard for a homeless person to go to the toilet. Urinating and defecating is also an offence under the order. The police will have the powers to take alcohol from homeless people and that could drive more desperate rough sleepers towards drugs.
I don’t think we should go down this discriminatory route in Ludlow. We need to understand the root causes and ensure that struggling people have the homes and support they need.