FEARS are growing over a rise in beggars who are “blighting” South Shields town centre.
Police, traders and charity workers have all expressed concern over an increase in the number operating in South Shields Town Centre.
Where once it was rare to see homeless people in street doorways it is now commonplace, with up to six individuals in the centre at any one time.
Gazette research has located several locations in and around King Street where beggars have been operating.
These have included outside of McDonald’s restaurant, the PDSA charity shop in the Market Place, the doorway of a vacant premises beside the British Heart Foundation, Lloyds Bank, at the Games Workshop in the Denmark Centre and at Morrisons in Ocean Road.
Today, the public were advised to give food and clothing to beggars but not money, as many are believed to be using cash handed over to buy drugs and alcohol.
Gill Peterson, assistant manager at Age UK in the Denmark Centre, regularly has beggars operating on either side of her shop.
Mrs Peterson says she has reached the “end of her tether” at their activities, claiming they scare off customers, hurl abuse and rifle through bins at the back of the premises.
She added: “I’m sick of them. They scare customers off, particularly our elderly ones and we are losing trade as a result.
“Any money they get just goes on buying bottles of cider. Every morning, I have to get in early to sort out the bins they have emptied through the night.
“If I approach them, I just get a mouthful of abuse. They are blighting the town.”
Amelia Luffrum, project director with Hospitality and Hope, the borough-based food bank and soup kitchen, said the public should only offer beggars food.
She said: “Homelessness is definitely rising from our experience.
“Some of the people who are out in these doorways, asking for money, come to our soup kitchens. They are in genuine need.
“Dependency on drink and drugs is a major issue. Our policy is never to give money. We feed them, give them sleeping bags and clothes, and direct them to different agencies.”
Neighbourhood Inspector Peter Sutton, of the Riverside Police Team, acknowledged there was a problem and said the situation was being monitored.
He added: “We are aware of the issue and are actively working with our partners on how the situation can be addressed, as concerns have been raised around criminality and vulnerability.”
Latest statistics show a 54 per cent rise in people seeking homelessness assistance from the local authority last year, from 187 to 534.
The impact of welfare reforms, including the ‘bedroom tax’, and a struggling economy, are among the reasons for the increase.