Police have issued advice to shoppers in Banbury as they look to target begging in the town centre.
The town’s neighbourhood policing team is cracking down on begging and vagrancy offences and officers have been working with Cherwell District Council to check details of those asking for money. They have found that some are not genuinely homeless.
Inspector Dave Hibbert, Cherwell’s neighbourhood police inspector, said: “Neighbourhood officers have noticed the particular areas where people are begging when they are doing patrols.
“They have seen a number of individuals appearing to either beg for money or sit quietly and wait for people to put money into a bag or blanket.
“Some people have complained to us about the behaviour and it was raised at a meeting.
“It means innocent members of the public are being conned into giving these people money, not knowing they already have secure accommodation. It does not help others who are genuinely homeless and in need of help. It is not right.”
The operation is being run by neighbourhood sergeant Wendy Percival and her officers have been visiting areas such as Church Walk and the High Street.
As part of their work they have been filming in different areas of the town centre and finding people who are regularly begging to talk about their needs. Officers are also in the process of prosecuting a person who was found to be committing criminal offences.
Insp Hibbert said: “At the moment we are looking to take someone to court over begging offences and we will take the same action if we find other people doing the same.
“The council and police are always working together and can always follow up and check on individuals in the town centre and signpost them to the relevant services that will help them. There are a number of charities that do help homeless people, including the Big Issue sellers that work in the town centre too. We would advise residents wishing to help people to either donate money to them or send money to charities via the post.”
Nigel Deakin manages the Beacon Centre in North Bar, Banbury which supports vulnerable and homeless people. He knows many people who are on the streets and said most of them do have some form of accommodation.
He said: “People who do this give the impression they are homeless when they are not so it distorts the bigger picture. If people want to do something about homelessness there is support out there. I know that any money given directly to these people would be spent on alcohol or drugs.
“The Beacon Centre is place of companionship and warmth. There is advice available from different services and procedures in place to help. The centre works with other services to get these people from a position in their life that is chaotic, to one that is meaningful. But this takes time.”
Deb Parker, acting CEO of Banbury Young Homelessness Project, which helps young people find and maintain a safe home, said: “It is a real shame if somebody is portraying to be in need and trying to get money when they are not genuinely homeless. It gives the people who really are vulnerable a really bad name.”
Anyone who would like to contact the Banbury Neighbourhood Team should call 101 or e-mail BanburyTownNHPT@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk