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Stroud Green Road rough sleepers: Should you give money to people under the bridge?

PUBLISHED: 11:28 06 September 2018

A makeshift bed under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

A makeshift bed under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Archant

There’s conflicting advice about whether or not people should give cash to those asking for it underneath the Finsbury Park bridge where people have been sleeping for some two years. The Gazette explores the issue.

A bedroom set up in Stroud Green Road. Picture: Loretta ThomasA bedroom set up in Stroud Green Road. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Islington Council has urged people to “think very carefully” before giving money to people under the Stroud Green Road bridge. But is that fair?

The council, and a number of outreach groups, say people who want to help should consider donating to a homeless charity or a night shelter in Islington or Haringey instead.

“We need to encourage people to leave the streets, not enable them to stay at significant risk of harm,” the town hall said in its most recent guidance.

The Gazette went down to the bridge to speak to the people there and find out what they thought about the advice.

Beds under Stroud Green Road bridge last week. Picture: Loretta ThomasBeds under Stroud Green Road bridge last week. Picture: Loretta Thomas

One person sleeping rough said: “If it was not for the public giving us money then we would have to steal.”

K, a former rough sleeper under the bridge who has been housed by homelessness charity St Mungos, was also there.

She said: “I’d like them to live in our shoes for a day and they will soon change their mind. They don’t know what it is like to be hungry and go without.”

She said that without the help of money and food she “would not have survived” as she had no benefits.

Beds under Stroud Green Road bridge last week. Picture: Loretta ThomasBeds under Stroud Green Road bridge last week. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Another former rough sleeper known as Redrat was also in the area and said she felt the council’s advice was unfair because rough sleepers are essentially a charity. “If it were not for us then there would be no [homeless] charities,” she said.

She had a suggestion of other ways that rough sleepers can be helped with donations of toiletries or an outreach service dropping off essential items.

Redrat believes that if she did not receive financial help them she would have had to turn to a life of crime to survive.

Streetlink, which works to support rough sleepers across the borough, believes that ultimately it is up to the person to decide whether to give beggars money.

K, who sleeps under the Stroud Green Road bridge after fleeing domestic violence. Picture: Loretta ThomasK, who sleeps under the Stroud Green Road bridge after fleeing domestic violence. Picture: Loretta Thomas

But the charity does state in its own advice: “Many people who are begging are not sleeping rough and equally, not all people who sleep rough, beg.

“In the longer term, giving money to people who are begging can aid harmful or destructive behaviours, and if begging is a viable solution for someone, there may be fewer incentives to move away from the streets and into stable accommodation.

“There are many alternative ways of helping people who are homeless, for example by donating to or volunteering with local homelessness services.”

Thames Reach, another charity working in the borough, takes a more hardline approach. It says “overwhelming evidence” shows people who beg in England do it to buy hard drugs, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, and super-strength beers and ciders.

Possessions under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta ThomasPossessions under the Stroud Green Road bridge. Picture: Loretta Thomas

“We are not asking you to just ‘walk on by’,” the guidance states. “By all means engage street homeless people in conversation, even buy them a cup of tea or food. But please don’t give them money. We have seen too many people die from overdoses on the street. Your kindness could kill.”

Jon Glackin is the founder of Streets Kitchen, a grassroots group that offers access to the homeless community and daily outreach service providing food, clothing and information. Until last week it was based in Seven Sisters Road and earlier this summer Jon was asked if Streets Kitchen wanted to be listed as an organisation to donate to as an alternative to giving cash to rough sleepers. He declined.

He told the Gazette: “The money given to the rough sleepers is for them and we told the council we don’t want the money people want to give directly to the street homeless.

“It’s not a matter of not giving it to charity, but if they choose to give it to the homeless people that’s fine. You don’t know what that person needs it for. If they are out of their head don’t give it to them, obviously, use a bit of common sense.

“But I don’t like campaigns saying: ‘your kindness could kill’.”

Streets Kitchen was using a vacant building in Seven Sisters Road as a headquarters, courtesy of Islington Council. Building work is now taking place and Jon is on the lookout for a new base.

The group is also holding Streets Fest in Finsbury Park on Monday in conjunction with Islington and Haringey councils.

Alongside live music, there will be support for homeless people including dental services, feet treatment, food and drink, housing advice, showers and vets.

More than 60 groups have signed up to offer their services at the event, which takes place from 2pm to 8pm.

What do you think about giving money to rough sleepers? Contact the Gazette on sam.gelder@archant.co.uk or call 020 7433 0104.

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