Belfast Telegraph

We could help the real homeless in Belfast if we banned professional beggars

By Lindy McDowell

Another week, another homeless man dead on our streets. If there is any ray of light in this bleak saga it is that coverage of the tragic death of the man who was found several days ago in a Belfast shop doorway has reminded the rest of us of the great work being done by so many volunteer outfits working to help others like him.

If you're driving through the city after dark, you'll see them out with their soup kitchens and coffee stations supplying food and warmth and human charity.

They deserve all credit these people. As do the team behind the innovative street sleep pod, which first appeared some months back before being banned by the city council (health and safety concerns, needless to say).

This is the same team which came up with the more recent and equally brilliant "kindness drawers" initiative - a chest of drawers where locals can leave clothing and the like to be picked up by street people in need.

So far, so very heart warming.

But should the authorities not be getting a bit tougher on the streets?

I'm not talking about the genuinely homeless, the real rough sleepers, those lost, vulnerable souls who often are the least visible of the street people.

I'm referring, in particular, to the professional beggars who now haunt the city centre, especially at night, like a legion of lost Halloween trick-or-treaters.

I'm talking about the epidemic of young men in sleeping bags around the Cathedral Quarter, where, of an evening, there is now a youth with outstretched Starbucks cup installed every couple of dozen yards.

The impression given is that these are lads who will spend the night sleeping on the streets. By and large they won't. They'll be taken back home by the same blokes who bussed them into town earlier.

And the money they make? What becomes of that? Does anybody actually believe that the man doing the begging gets to keep all he collects?

Hands up, I've given them money myself. I feel so sorry for them. I suppose by giving them a couple of quid, I just want them to know that.

But these young men are being used. And judging by the explosion in numbers on our streets over the last few weeks, it's obviously a nice little earner for someone.

Why do we tolerate this? Why do the local authorities?

A city which can introduce rules on a 20mph driving speed limit should surely be able to stretch to legislation governing street collection.

Professional begging should be banned. End of.

How do you prove who is a professional beggar and who's genuinely in need? It can't be that hard to monitor the comings and goings of the sleeping bag boys. And their minders.

I've seen them arrive in town myself. Strutting older men with mobile phones, ordering their charges where to lie. And doubtless creaming off the takings.

If these were young local men lying on our streets, would we care more? Would the PSNI do more? Are the authorities loath to intervene because they're worried about accusations of racism?

And do they have any real sense of the scale of the street begging phenomenon?

Most nights now there are more sleeping bags in Hill Street than at Glastonbury.

The touching thing is there are so many good-hearted people out there doing their utmost to help the needy and the vulnerable.

But where officialdom is concerned, the most visible of the needy and the vulnerable get stepped around - no questions asked.

So many young men lying in sleeping bags on a freezing night begging for money they may not even get to keep themselves. And nobody in authority even seems to see them.

MLAs food bill leaves bad taste

Hard to stomach that, with belts being forcibly tightened all round, more than £280,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent last year helping subsidise Stormont MLAs feeding their faces.

For those lucky enough to dine chez Assembly, grub in the restaurant and cafes there is partly paid for by... well... you.

Nice to think that when your elected representative is chowing down on the likes of wild mushroom polenta with asparagus and truffle oil, you get to pick up part of his, or her, tab.

Because they’re worth it. Aren’t they?

I propose a big ‘no’ to those silly videos

When and why did we all become such exhibitionists? Sometimes, you get the feeling that it’s no longer possible to propose marriage without organising a “surprise” spectacular that will be videoed.

And then shared on social media — presumably in the hope that it will go viral. Thus, what should be a private moment becomes cringey public performance.

Not surprisingly, those vids that attract most hits are the ones where the proposee says no.

Who says romance is dead? They’re dead right.

Belfast Telegraph

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