Most beggars in Oxford are “not homeless”, claims senior police officer

A senior Oxford police officer has urged members of the public to avoid giving money to beggars, claiming that “in many of the cases those who beg are not homeless”.

Responding to an investigation published by The Oxford Student last month, Inspector Andrew Thompson stated: “With such a large number of visitors to the city centre […], there is an opportunity to make money from those visitors, or the vulnerable, by putting themselves in a position to beg.

“In many of the cases those who beg are not homeless and often have homes or accommodation in the city, but they still continue to beg, presenting themselves to the public as homeless.”

When asked to provide evidence for his statement, Thompson continued: “My claim is based on our 16 most persistent beggars in the City. Of the 16, three have homes, 11 have accommodation and only two are actually homeless.”

Thompson used the claim to justify the 96 begging arrests made by police in Oxford over 2013 and 2014.

Thompson’s claim was supported by local homelessness charity Oxford Homeless Pathways.

Chief Executive Lesley Dewhurst said: “I am afraid that it is true that some people beg when they are not actually homeless. They may have been homeless in the past.

“It is also true that people who are technically homeless (i.e. they are staying with us at O’Hanlon House) sometimes beg by claiming to need the money for their rent, when in fact this is not the case.”

Freya Turner, Chair of OUSU’s homelessness charity On Your Doorstep, urged Oxford residents to avoid negative treatment of beggars in light of Thompson’s claim: “Homeless people are just people; their accommodation shouldn’t have to define them and they deserve the same respect and kindness from students and residents that any other citizen of Oxford does.”

Commenting on Thompson’s initial claim, second-year history student Turner stated: “Essentially he is right, national statistics show that there are many beggars who aren’t homeless/sleeping rough; but equally there are many homeless people who do not beg. The problem is that many people conflate the two in their understanding of the word ‘homeless’.

“I would advise concerned students to investigate the facts behind the begging/homelessness issue themselves before making judgements as it is a complex issue; if you’re concerned that the money you give to those on the street may not be helping those who need it most, you could always give to a local charity instead.”

Oxford City Council’s ‘Your Kindness Can Kill’ campaign has urged individuals to avoid giving money to beggars since 2012, claiming that donated money is often used on drugs, alcohol, and other harmful substances.