New Social Art School Projects - Respect Real People

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Press & Journal, 03 May 2007
By Cameron Brooks

Begging boxes in Aberdeen aimed at helping the homeless have been defaced by a mystery protester who believes they are ineffective.

Stickers replacing the council's message that contributors would be helping the homeless have been slapped on to three boxes in Union Street. They bear the slogan "Do you think a blanket and a meal is all it takes to help the people who need to street beg in Aberdeen - the city council does."

A source told the Press and Journal that it was felt that the authority's motto of "Give a hand up not a hand out" was "disrespectful and insulting to vulnerable people". A sticker of two shaking hands, which bears the slogan "respect real people" has been stuck to the top of the box, fastened to a wall near H &M. The official motif denotes one hand giving the other a help up.

The begging box scheme, the first of its kind in Scotland aimed at discouraging aggressive begging, was officially unveiled in the concourse that links the Bon Accord Centre to the John Lewis department store on April 20. The money collected will be divvied up among charities and used to buy essential items such as clothing and blankets which will then be given to homeless people.

Martin Greig, chairman of Aberdeen Community Safety Partnership, which led the boxes project, last night said he was "disappointed" to hear that some of them had been defaced by a person who clearly did not appreciate the effort that was being made to tackle a serious problem. Homeless charities and street beggars themselves say encouraging people to donate money to boxes instead of beggars will make little difference, however.

The source said: "The stickers are a protest about the whole nature of the boxes and what they stand for. "The council is trying to make out like they care about homeless people and to those without contact on the street it could appear they are succeeding."

The source said the essential items that the money will be used to buy are already being provided by city charities and churches. "This is not what the people on the street really need help with and there is no effort being made to sort out the issues at the core of homelessness.

"When will the council realise that we have a serious social problem for which the services there are aren't coping with or are no-existent?"

A 50-year-old street beggar, who would only give his name as Bob, said: "I really don't think that the boxes will bring about any change at all. "They will not get people off the street. The whole scene will just evolve a different way. He added: "One of the things which could help is a night shelter."

A beggar, known only as Joe, 34, said the only way to make a difference to the situation would be to open a specially designed rehab centre for drug addicts and alcoholics.

Mr Greig said: "The boxes are part of a much wider strategy and project to help people who are forced into street begging so this is not a very dignified way to address what is a serious problem. "The person behind this lacks a certain amount of decorum and I am concerned that the public perception is we are not taking this issue seriously."

Mr Greig said he would be speaking to council officials to ensure that the stickers were removed.