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Giving boxes installed to deter agressive begging

Press & Journal, 21st April 2007

By Cameron Brooks


ABERDEEN has become the first city in Scotland to introduce special giving boxes to crack down on aggressive beggars.

The first ten boxes planned for the city centre was unveiled yesterday in the concourse which links the bon Accord Centre to the John Lewis department store.

The aim is to discourage people from giving money to beggars who could use it to buy drugs and alcohol.

Instead cash from the “giving boxes” will be used to buy essential items such as clothing, food and blankets.

The project, spearheaded by Aberdeen City Council, is the first of its kind in Scotland.

It is hoped that the scheme will help reduce the number of street beggars and give those in genuine need a realistic chance to move on to a safer life lifestyle. Not all beggars are homeless.

Councillor Martin Greig, chairman of Aberdeen Community Safety Partnership, welcomed the collection box initiative, which aims to give the needy “a hand up and not a hand out”.

He said, “We are delighted to be launching this scheme which is part of a wide-ranging strategy aimed at reducing street begging. The boxes are intended to discourage giving money directly to beggars and donations towards practical help like shelter, food and clothing for those in need.

“Overall the project aims to tackle the problems linked to street begging and to offer a range of solutions.”

The sturdy cast-iron boxes, which cost £180 each, will be installed in a variety of locations throughout Aberdeen, including outside the Charles Michie chemist shop on Union Street and at the Mall Trinity, in the coming weeks. But a homeless charity and beggars themselves have questioned whether they will have a positive effect.

Paul Hannan, chief executive of Aberdeen Cyrenians which is involved in the initiative, said: “I don’t believe they will solve the problem because if someone has a choice of putting money in a box or giving money to someone on the street, they will money to someone on the street. People who care want to establish relationships with beggars, there is more to it than just giving money.”

A beggar, who would only give his name as Ron, said he thought the scheme would actually result in an increase in crime.

“Some people beg to fund their drug habits and if they are not getting money from people on the street they will shoplift and commit other crime to get it, it is the nature of the beast”, he said.

“Most of the people do not want to beg but they have no choice because the waiting list to get on to a methadone programme is around two-and-a-half years.”

Marc, who has been selling the Big Issue outside Marks & Spencer in the city centre for the last four months, added: “Aggressive begging is a problem in Aberdeen and I can understand why the council want to crack down but these boxes will not make a real difference.

“People want to see where their money is going and will continue to give to people on the streets. Not everyone spends money on drugs and drink.”

The 30-year-old predicted the “pittance” collected in boxes would be used to cover administration and salary fees.

“People on the front line will not benefit but they will suffer if people stop giving them money,” he added.

A beggar, who would only give his name as James, was equally dismissive of the scheme. The 31-year-old, who has been begging outside the back door of Mall Trinity, said it was only a matter of time before some “junkie comes along in the dead of night and uses a crow bar to rip a box off the wall” and steal the contents.

There are around 40 “regular” beggars in Aberdeen city centre who can make up to £25 a day at the weekend.

The city council’s bid for a bye-law to outlaw begging in 2005 was rejected by the Scottish Executive.

Ministers said current legislation adequately dealt with the problem.

But council officials are hopeful they still have a case because the executive recently changed its policies on civic laws.