GIVING money directly to people sleeping on the street can inadvertently feed the problem of homelessness, according to the Chair of the Tunbridge Wells Churches Winter Shelter.

The Revd Canon Jim Stewart of St James’ Church said that people in the town are ‘very generous’ but warned: “Some people are doing so well from this open handedness, that they no longer contact the various agencies which help them address the issues that have caused their homelessness in the first place.”

He added that, although the numbers in the borough fluctuate, in the run up to last year’s Winter Shelter there were about 30 rough sleepers with various needs that were offered help by themselves, the Borough Council and local charities such as Porchlight and Nourish Foodbank.

“When money is carefully directed through the agencies, the rough sleepers are offered the food they need and they are given help and advice on finding a home, looking for work, sorting out benefits and how to deal with the complex issues that have led to homelessness.

“It’s natural for people to want to help if they pass someone on the street.”

“The money handed over directly usually does not achieve any of these.

“On a wet and miserable day it may seem hard-hearted to walk past someone in need. The impulse to be generous is clearly something that is good. But there is already provision locally to meet that day’s needs and all the agencies would encourage everyone to make their generosity effective. This can best be done by giving to the homeless through a charity.”

The Winter Shelter is run though a management committee with members representing various local churches and chaired by Canon Jim Stewart.

More broadly in Kent, Porchlight found 707 people sleeping rough from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017 – a 38 per cent rise on the previous year.

Of these 134 were aged 25 or under – an increase of 71 per cent on the year before.

The charity’s spokesperson Chris Thomas: “This is one of the most complex issues in the homelessness sector. In other parts of the country, studies have shown there’s a mixture of people asking for money.

“There are those who are genuinely homeless and struggling to survive, and others who do actually have a home to return to. We believe more research is needed to find out exactly who is begging on the streets and why they’re doing it.

“It’s natural for people to want to help if they pass someone on the street. Food, a hot drink and even items like tent are good alternatives to giving someone money.

“We also need to ask ourselves why more people aren’t giving to charities. At Porchlight, 90 per cent of the money we receive goes back into frontline services which directly work with people who are homeless.”