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100 out of 130 beggars arrested in Belfast were not homeless, say police

By Allan Preston

Published 06/01/2016

A homeless man on the streets of Belfast city centre yesterday
A homeless man on the streets of Belfast city centre yesterday

The vast majority of street beggars arrested by police had residential addresses, it has been revealed.

The Nolan Show reported PSNI statistics yesterday morning saying police had arrested 130 beggars in Belfast in the past five years, but 100 of them were not homeless.

The question of so-called professional beggars was also raised.

There are concerns that some beggars in Belfast are doing it as their job, with claims that some are getting picked up in luxury cars at the end of the day and handing the money to a boss.

A debate has also started asking if giving money to homeless people on the street is actually helpful, or just prolonging and exacerbating the problem.

The Belfast Telegraph asked people in the city centre for their views yesterday afternoon in the wake of the figures. Most said they preferred to buy food or drink rather than giving money. One woman said she didn't feel safe stopping on her own as most of the homeless people she saw were men.

Another man said he always chose to walk on by, but supported charities as he thought it would have a greater impact.

It's believed that at least six people are sleeping rough on the streets in Belfast every night, often in freezing, damp and dangerous conditions.

A recent audit by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said there were 42 individuals who regularly sleep rough in Belfast, averaging six a night. Homeless charities in Northern Ireland have said they fear the real number could be much higher.

Each evening it is normal to see at least five individuals sleeping rough on Royal Avenue in shop doorways, often soaked by the rain. Volunteer groups handing out tea and sandwiches also have a visible presence.

The Depaul charity was one of the groups that took part in the recent Housing Executive Belfast street audit.

Chief executive Kerry Anthony said the figures showed fewer people here were sleeping rough and that most homeless people weren't "roofless" but lived in hostels, B&Bs and other forms of emergency accommodation. She said that if people were interested in tackling the problem, the most effective way was "to support organisations that are in a position to address not only the immediate but also the long-term needs of people experiencing homelessness".

"Our experience has shown that this type of support goes much further to help tackle the root causes of homelessness and make a lasting impact on people's lives."

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