The PSNI and a top charity have urged people to be wary of those begging ‘as a lifestyle choice’ on the streets of an NI town.
The PSNI issued an unusual public notice this week asking the public not to donate to these men who are hanging around the streets of Portadown.
And a local charity echoed the warnings saying the men have been offered help but refused.
The PSNI said in a message to local community workers: “You may have seen older males sitting around Portadown town centre or entry ways off it, begging or sitting out with a cup in front of them looking money. Most times they will look dishevelled and untidy looking.
"Please do not give them any food, hot drinks or money. They leave the food behind and take the money. Being a good Samaritan actually keeps the problem on the street. These males are well catered for and looked after.
“Begging is an offence which we have arrested for. It is Christmas time and I sound like Scrooge but for these males it is a life style choice.”
Charity Portadown Cares, which caters for hundreds of homeless, poor and vulnerable people and families throughout the year, is particularly aware of the current problem.
A spokesperson for Portadown Cares responded to the PSNI statement: “Portadown Cares are aware of two homeless men living on the streets in the town, both men have been approached by our volunteers and offered assistance.”
The group, which works with the Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul, said: “One of the men actually has an address in Lurgan, but chooses to live on the streets, we have provided him with food, toiletries, coats and other warm clothing and a homeless pack which consists of a sleeping bag and insulated blanket among other things
"At one stage we put him up in a B&B so he could get a decent night’s sleep and a shower. "We also worked with other agencies to help him. Unfortunately he has chosen his current lifestyle and much as we hate to see it happen, we cannot force help onto anyone, all we can do is offer support when he lets us.
“The younger homeless guy has also been helped with food, clothing etc, much as we would also like to see him off the streets, he has made a lifestyle choice and until that changes, there is nothing we or any of the other agencies can do.
“These two are the only ones we are aware of in the Portadown area, we are, however, aware that there are several people either driving or being dropped off in town to beg that are not in need and it is in fact their ‘job’.
“Poverty is at an all time high in our town, with almost a quarter of the residents living below the breadline. At this time of the year we are particularly busy providing hampers to pensioners, individuals and families in need and toys to children whom otherwise may have nothing to open on Christmas Day.
“Last Christmas we provided a large food hamper to 175 families in the local area, helping 545 individuals, with a 48/52% split across the community. This hamper is not filled with luxury goods, but contains the basics to put a meal on the table on Christmas Day, last year’s hampers contained a chicken, donated from Moypark, fresh fruit, donated by Simply Fruit, vegetables donated by Chapman’s, crisps donated by Tayto, bread donated from Irwin’s, cheese donated by Kerry Foods, as well as soup, peas, beans, trifle, gravy, salt, pepper, ketchup, brown sauce, custard, stuffing, sweets, rice, pasta, adult and kids cereal, butter, eggs, milk and a few other basic essentials provided by ourselves, aided by donations from the general public and local businesses.
“We also provided a full bin bag of toys to 292 local children living in poverty, making sure that there was a smile on faces on Christmas morning, this was again made possible with the help of local people donating through our giving tree, local businesses, ourselves and Cool FM/Downtown Radio’s Mission Christmas, Cash For Kids.
“If you know of anyone in genuine need, our hamper/toy nominations are open until 4pm this Saturday, you can nominate by filling in a form in our shop in High Street Mall and all nominations are totally confidential, the person will not be told you put their name forward. Also if anyone would like to donate food, a gift for a child, or sponsor Christmas for a family, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 028 3839 2288.”