HOMELESSNESS is a tragedy for those sleeping rough on the streets of our towns and cities. It leaves them vulnerable to illness, drug abuse and violence, and the increasing number of young people in such desperate circumstances is a matter of serious concern.
Tackling this issue can be complex, as the organisations working to help can testify. The police are also part of the mix, being on the front line of dealing with the problems and dangers which those on the streets face on a daily basis.
Yet the rise in the number of prosecutions for begging does raise questions about society’s approach to the homeless. Shamefully, there are those who are cynically taking advantage of the public’s kindness in helping people they believe have no roof over their head.
The police point out that prosecution is a last resort. A large part of the difficulty is that officers are attempting to tackle a 21st century issue with a law dating from almost 200 years ago, the Vagrancy Act of 1824, introduced to deal with destitute veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.
Plainly, this is causing problems for both the police and those who are ending up in court as a consequence.
Ultimately, the Government needs to look at the whole issue of homelessness, working in partnership with all who help those falling victim to it. That will have to include new legislation to deal with anybody abusing people’swillingness to help, and a primary emphasis on those genuinely in need.