Senior civic leaders in Derry have urged people not to hand over cash on the streets this Christmas as it risks fuelling “organised begging”.
In a significant intervention yesterday, Derry’s Civic Forum asked people to instead support local charities who are performing invaluable under-the-radar work tackling homelessness in the city on a daily basis.
The group, which is led by the Mayor of Derry & Strabane District Council, Councillor John Boyle, deals with a wide range of issues around homelessness, alcohol, drugs, emotional well-being and suicide prevention.
It comprises a range of community, statutory and voluntary organisations, including the City Centre Initiative, (CCI), Derry City & Strabane District Council, the Housing Executive, the PSNI, and a number of local charities.
Both the City Centre Manager, Jim Roddy, and the Mayor, Colr. Boyle, yesterday praised those who have been involved in addressing recent concerns around homelessness, rough sleeping and begging, particularly in and around Derry’s city centre.
They warned, however, that handing over cash to people begging for money in the streets is counterproductive.
Mr. Roddy said: “We want to caution people about giving money that would be better directed to the frontline services who are dealing with this issue on a daily basis.”
The Mayor, Colr. Boyle concurred with this, stating: “I do want to urge some caution in giving out cash on the streets as this may be contributing to a wider problem of organised begging or a quick fix solution to fuel more serious problems.”
Colr. Boyle’s and Mr. Roddy’s statements came after the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, praised Derry footballer James McClean for his generosity towards a group of people he had believed were rough sleepers.
Mr. Varadkar, speaking in the Dáil, had attacked Sinn Féin and its MP Elisha McCallion, who, he said, should have been doing more to tackle homelessness.
Mrs. McCallion has invited the Taoiseach to Derry and said he should meet with those involved in helping the homeless in the city.
In their statements yesterday the Derry Civic Forum leaders referenced neither Mr. McClean’s generosity nor Mr. Varadkar’s comments. They said they were “responding to recent concerns around the problems of homelessness, rough sleeping and begging”.
Mr. Roddy said: “In the run up to Christmas we are all aware of the issues around poverty and homelessness, at a time when family and the home are so important.We are so fortunate in that we have a dedicated network of experienced and committed people working day and night locally to ensure that everyone in our city has somewhere safe to stay for the night, as well as adequate food and clothing.
“In recent weeks these agencies have been working hard to ensure this can be extended right over the Christmas period. We are also aware of issues around on street begging, and we want to caution people about giving money that would be better directed to the frontline services who are dealing with this issue on a daily basis.
"We all want to lend our support, and this can be done in a way that is meaningful and effective, in assisting people to find suitable accommodation and a targeted solution to their problems.”
The Mayor said: “Derry is a place brimming with good will, especially at this time of year and I am always moved by the generosity of spirit shown by the people of this city.
"But I do want to urge some caution in giving out cash on the streets as this may be contributing to a wider problem of organised begging or a quick fix solution to fuel more serious problems.
“Organisations which offer frontline services are the ones best placed to offer the help and the longer-term solutions that are needed whether it’s in response to problems such as poverty, alcoholism or addiction.
"I want to send the message out to everyone that help is always available, no one on our streets has to be without shelter, food or support. We can all offer the best help by donating to a registered charity this Christmas.”