Public backlash after police tell public to stop helping street beggars and 'donate to charity instead'

The head of a homeless charity in Belfast has accused the police of “stereotyping” destitute people after they urged the public to stop giving money to beggars.

The appeal, which was made on various PSNI Facebook pages, provoked a backlash, with many social media users branding it as “shameful” and “disgusting”.   

“Please Please STOP giving money to people you see begging on the street in Belfast City Centre. Sadly, evidence indicates that money given to those begging is often spent on drugs – making problems worse,” the post read.

“Give instead to the various charities working tirelessly to help support these unfortunate individuals through finding them accommodation, feeding them and rehabilitating them.

“People who misuse drugs are dying in the greater Belfast area each week.

“What many consider an act of kindness, giving money, is contributing to the problem. It may seem counterintuitive, but please help these people by not giving them money.”

Police acknowledged such a response may seem “counterintuitive” as they urged people to instead donate to relevant charities better equipped to help.

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Many people in Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon were sympathetic to the police appeal, but that doesn’t mean they will be deterred from showing compassion.

Rachel Craig (22) said she believes that if you can help someone in need, then you should.

“I would rather offer them hot food or a drink, but I have given money in the past,” she said.

“You can’t assume they are taking drugs.”

Pal Una Morrison (20) agreed and said if police are going to make such a demand, they “should signpost people towards charities which can help”.

Caitlin Magee (21) agreed with the advice given by the police.

“I don’t give money to beggars,” she said.

“I saw a homeless man earlier and he was really nice, but I didn’t want to give him money in case he makes things worse for himself.”

Niamh Kerrigan (21) has mixed feelings on the issue, but said she will probably ignore the appeal. “I see what they are saying, but not everyone is on the street because of drugs and you never really know where your money goes when you give to charity,” she pointed out.

Ciara McBrien (19) was also sympathetic to the PSNI’s advice, but has no intention of heeding it.

“I see what they are saying, but everyone is human,” she said.

“Only a small percentage are on drugs and you don’t know everyone’s story.

“I’d like to think that if I was in that position, someone would give me money.”

Daniel Brady (18) said he won’t hesitate when it comes to giving money to homeless people.

“I only really do it at Christmas. It’s always a worry that they’ll spend it on something they shouldn’t, but how am I mean to tell?” he said.

Last night PSNI Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick said the appeal is not part of an official campaign, but was designed to stimulate debate around begging.

“As our original post stated, evidence indicates that money given to those begging is often spent on drugs, making problems worse,” he added.

However, Sandra Moore, chief executive of Welcome Organisation, claimed police are looking at “a complex problem” through the “single lens of law and order”, which ignores the needs of vulnerable people.

“The police are making the common assumption that people on the street are substance abusers, but this stereotype isn’t true,” she added.

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