City centre businesses set to fund police officers to help homeless

Police talk to a beggar on the streets of the Capital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Police talk to a beggar on the streets of the Capital. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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BUSINESSES are set to fund police officers and charity workers to help tackle begging and homelessness in the city centre.

Essential Edinburgh, the organisation which runs the Capital’s central Business Improvement District (BID), says the number of people begging and sleeping rough on the streets is on the increase. In its plan for the next five years, it 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.

A beggar and his dog sit on Princes Street. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

A beggar and his dog sit on Princes Street. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

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.

“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,” he said.

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.

“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.

“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.”

Essential Edinburgh is setting out its five-year plan ahead of next year’s ballot when city-centre businesses vote to renew the BID.

Over the past five years, it says it has seen footfall averages running more than 2.7 per cent ahead of UK averages; huge numbers generated by BID events, including 280,874 at the Street of Light in George Street last year; £5.4 million of economic benefits from BID events in just one year; almost 2000 tonnes of trade waste diverted from landfill through the trade waste initiative run in partnership with Changeworks recycling; and recorded crime down 7.6 per cent through crime reduction initiatives, the presence of weekend taxi marshalls and increased CCTV cover.

Mr Smith said: “We also saw our flagship ‘This is Edinburgh’ marketing campaign, once the tramworks were completed, hit its £50m economic impact target over its two years, helping bring people in to the city centre.

“Now our job is to build on those achievements.”

Essential Edinburgh has a turnover of around £1.5m a year, just over £1m of which is raised from its 550 levy-paying member businesses.

It is helping to manage the George Street Design Project and is responsible for St Andrew Square, wants improved signage throughout the city centre and plans to lobby the council over improving the state of the road in Rose Street.

Other initiatives include doubling the number of planters and on-street flowers in the city centre and launching a gift card to encourage people to shop in city-centre stores.

CLEAN TEAM to be increased as BID bosses say they would like to do more

Making the city centre cleaner and more attractive is one of the top priorities for local businesses.

Essential Edinburgh is to enhance its Clean Team, the seven-strong squad which operates 6am-10pm to clear up early morning mess and provide extra street cleaning and gum-busting.

“It’s one of the things our members like most and because it’s been so successful we want to increase it,” said Roddy Smith.

“There is a big issue in terms of the cleanliness of the city centre.”

And he hints that the BID organisation would like to take on more responsibility for it. They cannot, for example, empty council bins, even if they are overflowing, because that is the council’s job.

Mr Smith said: “One of the things we’re wrestling with at the moment is we can only do ‘additionality’ – we’re not allowed to do a number of things we’d like to do.

“We’d like to be work more proactively with the council. If there was a way we could be more responsible for cleaning the city centre then we would do, in discussion and partnership with the council.”

Time to use Castle Street space to boost West End

ESSENTIAL Edinburgh wants to take over direct management of public open spaces in the city centre, such as in Castle Street.

Chief executive Roddy Smith believes more use could be made of the pedestrianised area to help attract people to the West End of Princes Street, especially once the St James Quarter is completed.

“At the moment no-one is quite sure what the impact of St James will be,” he said. “But if you put a world-class, £1 billion project with 80 retailers and 30 bars and restaurants it’s going to have an impact on everywhere else in the city centre.”

He predicts much higher footfall in the East End, also helped by the West Register development and the boom in restaurants around St Andrew Square.

“One of the major challenges is to make sure people move around the whole city centre, and we can do things at the West End, such as at Castle Street, to keep people moving so they’re not concentrated too much in the East End.

“We would hope to put on a range of events – maybe at Chinese new year, maybe high quality markets, small community events, putting on singers at Christmas – just using the space in a lively, different way.

“It’s such a great space in such a great location – lots of people walk past and you could do some great things with it.”

He says people see the St James development as an opportunity more than a threat. “I’ve no doubt it’s going to be a huge boost to the city. People still quite often see Glasgow as having better shopping than Edinburgh, which will not be the case after 2020.”