It is vital that there is help out there for street beggars

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Anyone with a shred of humanity finds it hard to see a beggar on the street imploring passers-by for money without either donating or feeling bad for not doing so.

But as we report today, those in charge of running our city are today asking that we do not give any change to beggars, and instead donate to organisations and services that care for the homeless.

In the view of the police and Portsmouth City Council, giving money to people is a risk, as it is too likely to be spent on drink or drugs – or both.

It’s a difficult situation. On the one hand, the argument put forward by a councillor and by Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner today is sound. It is, of course, better to try to help someone out of homelessness than simply pass on a quick fix of money that, quite apart from often being translated into a quick fix of drugs, only postpones the need to continue begging. It would be far better that an experienced organisation such as Central Point in Portsmouth, which does great work in the city, is given the help in order to help others.

But here’s the rub. Almost every day we hear of cuts to services, reductions in grants to charities, and the sounds of municipal belts being tightened at all levels.

It was only Saturday that The News reported how up to 300 people are expected to die from cold-related conditions this year in Portsmouth, due in no small part to the rising price of heating bills. With such shocking news as that, is it any wonder that some of us may start to lose faith with the mechanisms that are supposed to look after the most vulnerable?

There is no easy answer. But a clue may lie in the fact that of the 16 beggars who have been identified, only three were actually homeless. They must be pushed towards help for addictions, and while arresting and criminalising these people is not the solution, it would help if they were told that begging will not be tolerated.

But on the other hand, we must be assured that help is genuinely out there. We cannot allow a group of people to become cut adrift, just because they are seen as a nuisance.