Newcastle City Council and its partners launched the #noneedtobeg campaign just before Christmas, which is trying to let the public know that people who are homeless in the city do have access to support and don’t need to beg. In fact, the majority of those people begging are not the rough sleepers that we work with on a daily basis. That’s not to say that the people who are begging don’t have support needs, they do, and usually that’s to do with addictions, to alcohol or to drugs, including NPS (Novel Psychoactive Substances, commonly known as Legal Highs).
It’s been a controversial campaign, with a bit of a backlash against the council and its partners, including ourselves, for demonising “the homeless”. That’s the last thing we’d do, but the reality is, as I’ve said, that people begging are largely accommodated and the money that people give goes directly to buying drugs or alcohol. The fact is that people begging are offered support on an almost daily basis by our outreach team.
They don’t want it because they make a good amount of money from begging that they then spend on drugs or alcohol. The money which the kind and generous public gives to beggars doesn’t buy a bed for the night or a hot meal, it maintains people in their addiction.
The council is now consulting on a PSPO – a Public Space Protection Order (details here: https://letstalknewcastle.co.uk/consultations/index/169) and I’ve already been sent various petitions by well-meaning friends, which seem mostly concerned about the restricting of busking after 8pm, but then conflating that with penalising the vulnerable. I don’t know about buskers but what I do know is that rough sleepers have access to a huge amount of support, Newcastle is one of the few cities that continues to invest in services to support people who are homeless, where other areas are cutting homeless services (I’m fully aware that this is due to the ongoing austerity agenda but Newcastle has really tried to protect the most vulnerable people).
One of the main issues the PSPO is trying to prevent is the taking of NPS (Legal Highs) in the city centre. The issues caused by Legal Highs has exploded on our streets and in our services over the last few weeks. We’ve been trying to challenge the use of Legal Highs for several years. People see them as “legal” so safer than “illegal” drugs. This is not the case, they are potentially more dangerous, they are untested chemically synthesized versions of illegal drugs. People can still overdose on legal highs, and when they do it’s hard to know how to treat them because we don’t know what chemicals are in that particular batch. We’ve seen more younger people out on the streets begging recently, and we think that’s to get money to pay for Legal Highs, as the more you take the more you need to get the same effect. The police, ambulance service, the council and it’s partners are working together to try to stem the supply and support the people in the grip of these substances.
We support the #noneedtobeg campaign, because our view is if we can educate the public that their money is not being spent on a roof and food and they stop giving, it will cut off the supply of money for people who beg and help move them instead towards seeking help with their addiction and the underlying issues that have caused it.