A Conservative city council has been criticised for “demonising” rough sleepers by suggesting they may not be homeless and discouraging people from giving them money.
Posters have appeared in Gloucester carrying the image of a person in a hoodie apparently asking for money.
The posters pose the question: “Are you really helping homeless people?” and add: “In some cases, the people you see sleeping rough are not homeless. They are in accommodation, receiving support and benefits.”
It continues: “Think before you give – change is more than coins,” and suggests contacting homeless outreach workers or giving money to an established charity.
Matthew Knight, who works for the Gloucestershire-based Elim Housing Association and helps homeless people find accommodation, expressed distaste on Twitter.
He said: “I think it stigmatises all homeless people. It insinuates everybody who is begging is not homeless and wants money for drugs and alcohol.”
Terry Pullen, leader of the Labour group on the city council, and the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Gloucester, Fran Boait, issued a joint statement criticising the campaign.
The statement said: “The Tories should be ashamed they have allowed them to go up … the posters imply that most homeless people are not genuine but trying to con people out of money.
“This is shameful and effectively demonises one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our society who need our kindness and care. We call upon Gloucester city council to immediately withdraw these posters.”
Jennie Watkins, the council’s cabinet member for communities and neighbourhoods, defended the posters.
She said: “The launch of our ‘Street Aware’ campaign is to raise public awareness about alternative giving. It’s a tough message to deliver, but we must consider whether giving money directly to individuals is the best way to support them to make positive and sustainable change.
“Giving money to people who beg may make life on the street easier for them in the short term, but, in the worst case, could feed dependency. It takes more than money to turn a life around.
“The intention behind the poster campaign is to catch the public’s attention, to ask them to think about whether their money is helping in the best way and to provide important information about how to refer someone who they may be concerned about for support. It is a challenging and sensitive issue, but one we must raise if we are genuine about working together to help people to achieve real change.”
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