Only give food or hot drinks and not money to homeless in Ely is the message from police

Police are concerned that street beggars are misleading people, because they say there are no rough

Police are concerned that street beggars are misleading people, because they say there are no rough sleepers in Ely. - Credit: Archant

Only give food or warm drinks and not money to the homeless in Ely, police are urging people who visit the city.

Police are concerned that street beggars are misleading people, because they say there are no rough sleepers in Ely.

Sergeant Phil Priestley said: “There are no rough sleepers in Ely - all of the individuals that have been seen begging recently have been catered for with regards to housing and support. We do not want people to be mislead, because it can be a lucrative opportunity.

“It is natural to feel for anyone who appears to be living on the streets or who seems to be affected by hardship.

“We urge anyone who wants to assist the issue of homelessness to donate to registered charity who will take a co-ordinated approach to tackling the problem.

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“If you do feel moved to give something - offer food or a warm drink by all means - but please do not offer money.”

The police advice comes because “housing and support has been offered or given to everyone known to be involved in street begging in the city”.

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A spokesman for East Cambs District Cambs Council (ECDC) said the council has taken “very thorough steps” to ensure that people in need find support.

Angela Parmenter, housing and community safety manager at ECDC, said: “Sometimes people don’t want to engage with us because it is possible to earn substantial amounts of money on the streets of Ely.

“It may appear that the local authority is uncaring - but in truth we are making support available.”

One person said on social media: “I gave £2.50 to a homeless chap for a hot coffee in central Ely. Had a short chat with him, seemed very pleasant. Did he spend the money on a coffee? Who knows but sometimes I can’t just walk by as if they’re not there...”

The police spokesman replied: “It feels like a huge moral dilemma - and sometimes you don’t have the time to queue for a hot drink or something equivalent to the £2.50 that you might give - so it’s easier to hand over the money.

“That is understandable too. We don’t want to persuade people to not care, or not offer help - but we do want to help people to know how best to go about offering help.

“The people in the ECDC housing team care a great deal and they are paid to address the issue (and they do).

“Guidance to long term support is always better than cash, and if you’re moved to give more immediate help, food and a hot drink is the better alternative.”

Police also outlined the different homelessness charities that people can support: “Jimmys, Emmaus, and Winter Comfort are all local services that you can help with donations or volunteering your time. Shelter to do excellent work on a national basis too.”

“Anyone who does need help can be directed to the ECDC offices on Nutholt Lane. The help is available.”

Begging is a criminal offence under the Vagrancy Act 1824 and officers will be taking positive action to address the issue.

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