Edinburgh businesses to fund police officers and homeless charity workers
Essential Edinburgh, the organisation which runs the city’s central Business Improvement District (BID), said the investment will go towards a multi-agency programme aimed at tackling an increase in the number of people begging and sleeping rough on the streets.
According to The Scotsman, the five-year plan proposes paying for two police officers who would act as “community bobbies” for the city centre and whose role would include getting to know the beggars and rough-sleepers.
And Essential Edinburgh – whose members include Harvey Nichols, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Standard Life – will also help fund two workers being employed by homelessness charity Cyrenians to offer direct help to people sleeping rough in the city centre.
Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said the police it funded would be over and above the city-centre police officers paid for by the city council.
One officer is expected to start work next month as a trial scheme, with the hope of moving to two full-time officers from this time next year.
Mr Smith said: “What we are keen to do is have a constant presence in the city centre, the same person so we have a face people can know and engage with.
“The key thing is we want to create relationships so the police are in the BID area all the time, going around talking to retailers, to bars and restaurants, getting to know people, having a single point of contact, liaising with all the businesses and obviously having a presence on the streets.”
Mr Smith said the officers would also play a key part in Essential Edinburgh’s efforts over begging and homelessness.
He added: “It has been a growing issues in the city centre over the last few years. Everyone who walks in the city realises there are more beggars in the street and more people who sleep in the street.
“It’s not just about moving it on and stopping it, it’s about working with the council and charities and the police to support the people who are begging on the street so they don’t have to do it.
“It’s not a case of businesses just wanting to shift the problem out of the city, we want to support these people and give them options that don’t include living on the street and begging.”
He said some homeless people slept on the street by choice, despite hostel places being available, and begging was sometimes also a choice.
“Sometimes people don’t have to do it, but they can make money by doing it. Legally it’s not a crime.
“If we have additional police officers in the city centre they can talk to these people and try and create a relationship where they can move them out of doing it.
“But it’s a management issue as opposed to a solving issue because unless there’s bylaws to stop it happening you can’t stop it.
“We’re getting involved because there’s been a definite increase in the last couple of years in the number of people you will see on the street begging and our members are saying it’s a big issue.
“It makes people feel uncomfortable if you’ve got beggars on the streets. If they’re sitting outside shops then it deters people from going into those shops, people don’t walk as close to the shops; if you have homeless people it creates issues of hygiene and health in the morning.
“We already spend a lot of time cleaning up after the homeless have been living on the streets.”
Ewan Aitken, chief executive of Edinburgh Cyrenians, praised Essential Edinburgh for trying to find “a positive solution to a negative issue”.
He said: “They understand the folk sleeping rough and begging are in a tough reality and they need help to get out of it rather than being policed out of it and moved on.
“We’re launching a programme in mid-summer, going round early in the morning to people who are sleeping in shop doorways to see what we can do to help.”
He said the scheme would initially involve two part-time workers who would be ready to go with the rough-sleeper to try to sort out their immediate needs, whether it be getting food, finding a doctor or getting cleaned up.
“One of the people we’re employing is someone who has experience of rough sleeping, someone who knows what it’s like to be in a shop doorway.”
And he said that there were always more people ending up on the streets.
“It is a perennial problem. Although we have lots of success stories, we are having to help new people all the time. It’s a continual process.
“The first thing is to understand how they have ended up on the street, then see what their problems are.
“Is it addiction, financial management? Mental health is a huge issue.
“Can we then provide a holistic approach to give the combination of support needed by that individual? It’s never one solution.”