A London borough has launched a controversial poster campaign that advises the public not to give money to those begging on the streets as doing so may “contribute to someone’s early death”.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea advises the public in a poster which claims that those begging are “likely to spend the money on drugs and alcohol”.
But those who have seen pictures of the poster have voiced their disagreement, alongside homelessness charities, who say the decision to give money is a personal one and that those begging are nonetheless vulnerable.
Interesting ad from the council has gone up all over Chelsea pic.twitter.com/9uFUXzaT73— Ned Donovan (@Ned_Donovan) August 20, 2015
The ad is part of the borough’s alternative giving campaign, and is used to promote other ways people can support those who are homeless without offering cash on the street.
But people on Twitter were quick to express their disgust – and anger – when a picture of the poster was posted online.
@Ned_Donovan Bejeezus. That's quite shocking.— Flaming June (@junrussell) August 20, 2015
@Ned_Donovan wrong on so many levels— steve (@steveierich) August 20, 2015
The borough launched the campaign on 10 August and concedes it is “hard hitting”.
In a press release, it described its reasoning for the posters, as: “Many of those begging use the money to fund their drug and alcohol habits rather than use it to buy food or to access accommodation.
“Only a small minority of the most prolific beggars in Kensington and Chelsea are actually homeless.”
Yet homelessness charities say that this is too simplistic a view of the problems facing those living on the streets.
@Ned_Donovan there is no measure large enough to measure my disgust at this.— tracey purnell (@trangpang) August 20, 2015
Crisis says it found a fairly high proportion of single homeless people had previously suffered from drug or alcohol dependency, at around 48% and 46% respectively, this is often a result of their efforts to cope with the trauma of homelessness itself.
The charity’s director of policy and external affairs Matt Downie told HuffPost UK: “Whether or not people give money to beggars is a personal decision. People who beg are often some of the most vulnerable in our society. They may be homeless or struggling with extreme poverty. And yes, some will have problems with addiction - often as a result of the trauma of homelessness itself.
“We know from our own clients how important a simple act of kindness can be to those in desperate circumstances, yet by far the most important thing is that people can get the dedicated support they need to escape the streets for good.
“The number of people sleeping on the streets is rising. Yet rather than get the help they need, homeless people who ask their councils for help are often turned away – cold, desperate and forgotten.
“We urgently need a change in the law so that no one is forced to sleep rough, and we urge the public to support our No One Turned Away campaign to help make sure this happens.”
Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council said: “We are committed to helping those in need and have a dedicated Outreach team who are out every day, working to find accommodation for those sleeping rough. We work with the police and homeless charities to help do this.
"The posters reflect our approach of seeking to help genuinely vulnerable people find accommodation and stop using drugs or alcohol. We want to encourage people who wish to give money to homeless people to donate to local charities, rather than risk feeding a drug or alcohol habit.”