In the past year the Genesis Trust has been regularly dealing with more than 50 people a day. This is a 20% rise year-on-year to its service which is run from vaults underneath Bath Abbey.
So why is the number of rough-sleepers rising so rapidly? It has been noted that changes to how benefits are paid and family breakdowns are the two top contributing factors that have led to the increase. However, people who do not want to go back to their home towns tend to ‘float’ from destination to destination and with Bath being in the higher bracket of earning potential, they find they can earn more here than in other British cities.
Having said that, the fact that the majority of councils will only help homeless people with a genuine link to the area means that many of these people find themselves facing the same dilemma – where to sleep and keep warm. Interestingly, Paul Solly, director of Genesis Trust has stated that despite being more practical in terms of helping those in need move into accommodation or accessing drug and alcohol services, they find that the success rate is not high; many are still moving on and continuing because their mindset is more about survival rather than moving forward.
With that in mind, what should we do when passing a homeless person? Do we give them money or ignore them? Ignoring them seems to be the harshest but kindest thing you can do to them. A campaign has been launched to stop giving money to Bath’s beggars. The ‘Your Kindness Can Kill’ poster and leaflet initiative aims to steer money to city charities in order to help homeless people. The campaign underlines the potential dangers of handing money directly to people on the street due to the fact that we could be fuelling a drug or alcohol addiction. Organisations such as The Big Issue, Julian House and the Genesis Trust are involved in the campaign and have stated that although the public’s generosity is appreciated it could be better to donate to charity. A new voucher scheme is being introduced by Julian House and Genesis Trust in which homeless people can exchange the vouchers for food or accommodation. To support this campaign all you have to do is text KIND20 £3 to 70070; a great, new innovative way to help those in need without actually aiding an addiction.
It is incredibly important to fix this issue before Bath gets a reputation of being ‘easy to beg in’, especially as residents of the city are constantly being faced with aggressive beggars. If it is not addressed, the situation could get out of hand.
Perhaps it seems harsh to attempt to ‘clean up’ the streets of Bath, but there needs to be a distinction between those who have become homeless because they have been laid off and have fallen victim to the consequences but are attempting to rebuild their lives, and those who are choosing to beg for a living.
Ian Duff was made homeless five years ago after losing his job. Now he sells the Big Issue and has said that he has experienced first-hand the aggressive natures of certain beggars in Bath and notes that there are some who earn up to hundreds of pounds a day from unsuspecting well-meaning passers-by. With cafes and baguette shops giving out free food at the end of the day or with the soup run at St Michael’s Crypt, these people do not need to beg for money or food. Furthermore, a Julian House client has said that he has begged in the past to fund a drug habit and even added that he was so intent on finding the next hit that he would ‘literally say anything’ to get money.
With the percentage of homeless people increasing annually it is evident that something needs to be done to remedy the situation. Moves are being made to help those in need but it is clear that as the public we need to stop giving money when we get stopped on the streets. We are not helping, we are facilitating.
Photo credited to Adrian Miles