Beggars will go where there is the highest concentration of people, so to be effective services need to go there too, according to Tim Renshaw, chief executive of the Cathedral Archer Project.
And although they can be ‘unsightly’ most are committing no crime, leaving police with few enforcement options.
Mr Renshaw spoke out in response to calls to clear the city centre of beggars, homeless people and addicts, to help it recover. On Fargate, more than 40 per cent of shops are empty, making them more visible.
Staff at Boots have spoken of feeling ‘under siege’ from thieves and thugs who loiter outside and steal with impunity.
Some have also called for the Cathedral Archer Project to move out of town. It provides meals and services to homeless people and is sometimes seen as a magnet for trouble.
But Mr Renshaw said moving would lead to more problems not fewer.
He added: “Like any service, you put it where it’s going to be used, and that applies to outreach for drugs and alcohol and homelessness and probation.
“People on the street can be unsightly, I understand that. But for a street alcoholic, the best thing is to get them into treatment. We see people as people and not problems.”
In 2013, the Department for Work and Pensions cut some benefits and funding for outreach teams and begging ‘massively increased’, he said.
BUSINESS NEWS: Eerie pictures inside empty Debenhams
During the pandemic, some 37,000 people nationally were given accommodation. And today, investment is returning.
In the city centre, rough sleeping numbers have fallen from an average of 30 to under 10, and, on one night in March, zero.
The Archer Project was seeing up to 90 people a day, now its between 40 and 60.
Mr Renshaw added: “There were years of disinvestment. It takes time to build up connections with people. That is happening now.”
In total, about 300 people have ‘multiple barriers to making progress,’ he added.
BUSINESS NEWS: ‘Obscene’ – MP slams Duke of Norfolk’s taxpayer-funded land deal
It could be due to family breakdown, lack of role models or severe childhood trauma. Once on the street people faced trauma ‘time and again’, including potentially rape, he added.
“There’s an idea about what causes homelessness and that people should make better choices. But trauma has got nothing to do with choice,” he said.
The government is repealing the ‘outdated’ Vagrancy Act – which makes begging and rough sleeping an offence - aiming to bring in legislation which puts rehabilitation and support ‘at the heart of our approach’.
Mr Renshaw added: “We really have to invest in the long term future of our cities by looking at how we help those who are most impoverished.”
He also called on city centre shops to get more involved in ‘alternative’ methods of tackling theft.
And he confirmed he did not give to beggars because it ‘keeps them on the street longer’.