Persistent begging is almost always linked to addiction, by Jean Calder

I’ve been pleased to see an increase in local concern about homelessness, but confess to irritation about recent debate on begging. Commentators seem very reluctant to acknowledge that persistent street homelessness and begging is almost always linked to alcohol or drug addiction. A cynic might suggest this is because of widespread recreational drug use among the city’s middle classes.

Certainly destitute addicts haven’t been helped by the city’s affluent opinion-formers, many of whom have for years minimised the role of addictions in homelessness, preferring to call for decriminalisation and ‘shooting galleries’, so that addicts can inject in comfort.

Affluent substance abusers tend to keep their homes and avoid the criminal justice system. Poor addicts, in contrast, have to find money for their costly drugs of choice in any way they can – usually on the street, by theft, begging, exploitation, prostitution or drug dealing. Some get arrested.

This isn’t fair, but there’s nothing others can do about that. It isn’t a human right to be able to pursue life-limiting addiction and fellow citizens have no moral duty to help with the costs of supply. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Addicts aren’t helped by kindly souls who give them money when they say they are homeless and desperate. Such people are desperate, but regrettably not for food and shelter. Sometimes they already have access to both. Addiction has them in its grip.

Our responsibility is to ensure addicts have access to the things that can genuinely save their lives – treatment facilities, long term specialist supported housing and the constant guidance of people committed to aid their recovery.

(This item was first published in the Brighton Argus in February 2016)

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One Response

  1. Brighton has many people sleeping out now. Three’ beds’ on the pavement outside Aldi, for example. On one level it is a reflection of the contraction of social housing and is reflective of greater tolerance of addictions. Tolerating it makes it happen more. There should be powers to remove such persons by a kind of sectioning under such as the Mental Health Act but the state would have to assume responsibility for providing places of safety and then care plans. The increases of Brighton streets as sleep centres is unacceptable.

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