‘Professional beggars’ in Weston-super-Mare will have sleeping bags and other personal items removed

PUBLISHED: 12:30 27 January 2017

So-called 'professional beggars' will be targeted in Weston-super-Mare town centre.

So-called 'professional beggars' will be targeted in Weston-super-Mare town centre.

Archant

Professional beggars who mislead people in Weston town centre will be targeted during a two-week period of action.

North Somerset Council and Weston’s Business Improvement District (BID) will team up to rid the town of professional beggars – who claim to be homeless despite having housing of their own in an attempt to make money.

The two-week trial operation, which started on Monday, will see town centre BID wardens remove belongings which appear to be abandoned and take them to Weston Town Hall, in Walliscote Grove Road, for secure storage.

Wardens will tape a receipt to the area where the items were left, meaning if someone returns to collect their belongings, they will see the receipt asking them to go to the Town Hall.

Town centre and BID manager Steve Townsend said the problem of professional begging is so extreme that people are now travelling to Weston specifically for this purpose.

Mr Townsend said: “People might have noticed growing numbers of people in and around Weston High Street who appear to be homeless, and may have spotted sleeping bags and other items left in doorways.

“The vast majority of these individuals have places to live, but choose to earn money by making people think they are homeless. Some even travel from outside of Weston and set up their pitch early each morning because of the income they can generate in a day from passers-by.”

Any items which are collected by BID wardens will be stored for two weeks after collection, before eventually being disposed of.

Mr Townsend said he wanted to make sure people understood the move was not targeting those who are genuinely homeless, and he stressed these people would receive help and support.

He said: “This initiative is only about reducing professional begging.

“This is January, and the nights are cold. The last thing we want to do is take the sole possessions from someone who is sleeping out overnight on our streets.

“The other issue we need to take seriously is security and it’s important that we are vigilant about items left unattended in public spaces.”

Anyone who is concerned about a genuine rough sleeper in Weston town centre should contact Streetlink, the national rough sleeping helpline, on 03005 000914. They can also contact Somewhere To Go on 01934 641880.

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