Aggressive beggars on Belfast streets ruined trip, says English family visiting city
A family visiting Belfast from England have said their trip was ruined by aggressive beggars on the street.
Steve Beattie, who is originally from east Belfast, made the Easter holiday trip from Newcastle-upon-Tyne with his two young sons aged 10 and 11.
Now he says he would think twice about coming back to his home city due to the "aggressive behaviour of foreign individuals begging on the streets".
Mr Beattie said his sons had been enjoying Belfast's tourist experience which included a visit to the Titanic Museum, but an aggressive encounter with three individuals on Donegall Street on Wednesday morning scared his children.
"We were accosted by three of them asking for money, just the general norm. But this one individual just wouldn't let it go," he explained.
"While crossing the street one individual accosted my 10-year-old out of sight of me, and went on and on for 20 pence until he saw me coming on the scene. Which soon changed his outlook."
He continued: "It could have proved something different. I'm not a man of violence but I'll stand for my own and protect my children.
"It could have turned out a lot worse than it was."
Mr Beattie said other guests staying at his hotel had reported similar incidents on their visit to Belfast. "I just thought this isn't the Belfast I remember," he said.
Mr Beattie said hotel staff had explained to him that five homeless people had died on Belfast's streets this year but that "a lot of people coming in from eastern European cities are putting a dark light on it".
He added: "It certainly would (put me off coming back to Belfast) especially with children.
"If that's what's going on during the day, what's going to happen in the darkness of the evenings?"
In January the issue of so- called professional beggars was raised after the PSNI said that 100 of the 130 people they had arrested in five years for begging had a residential address.
Paul McCusker from the outreach group Homeless Aware said several complaints had been made to Belfast City Council about the problem.
"Those people who are begging, we've received lots of calls about them, they look homeless but aren't actually homeless," he said.
"We're trying to look at a project to tackle that problem. The council are looking at that too because it's been brought to them on several occasions.
"These people, the conditions they live in when they go home, are quite poor. It's criminality and sources tell me it's orchestrated by certain individuals. I think they're vulnerable people who we should be looking at trying to support in some way to get them off that sort of behaviour.
"There's young girls and young men on the streets from different countries doing that type of activity. But certainly the council and police need to address it because it is on the increase," he added.