THERE CAN be few people who have not, at some time, been approached by a person asking for money while walking through one of our town or city centres.

The stories beggars tell in support of their requests are often familiar; “I just need some money for the bus to get home”, “I’m on my way to the job centre”, or “I can’t afford to buy food” are among those I’ve heard frequently. Often, if challenged, the stories don’t stack up. I remember one guy in Hall Ings, Bradford, asking me for money to catch a bus to the job centre without realising he was standing less than 100 yards away from it.

Sorting the lies and half-truths from cases of genuine need is a tough task for anyone wanting to act in a humane, caring way. I once watched a colleague, approached by a man claiming he was starving, walk to a nearby shop, buy a sandwich and hand it over to a grudging recipient who, as we walked away, binned it. Such encounters have led to the received wisdom that beggars only want money for drugs or alcohol or both. In many cases that proves to be correct but there are, undoubtedly, a growing number of cases of genuine need – and, of course, an equally growing need to understand the circumstances that lead a person to beg and to develop that drug or drink habit in the first place.

It’s a problem that towns and cities across the world wrestle with every day. Last week a man accused of persistent begging in Keighley was issued with a Criminal Behaviour Order banning him from “sitting, sleeping or loitering” in a public area in the Bradford district “with items giving the impression he is homeless” and from entering several supermarkets and other stores.

As has become common in many places, West Yorkshire Police advised anyone wanting to give money to beggars to consider giving the cash to charities for the homeless instead. In other parts of the world, cities have banned begging completely and forcibly removed beggars from the streets; others have designated zones (around cafes and restaurants, for instance) which beggars must not approach and one city in New Zealand is giving them lessons on “street etiquette” and issuing permits.

More innovative schemes have included launching rehabilitation programmes and offering paid work, such as litter-picking or weeding, and overnight shelter for those who take it up. The fact is that street begging is not welcomed by most shoppers and workers and it can actively deter visitors, thereby damaging the local economy. Some human rights campaigners take the view that no-one has a right to not be approached in a public place by someone asking for help but, surely, everyone has a right to personal space and to choose whether or not to respond to a person begging in a passive way?

It must be wrong to suggest that getting up in someone’s face is acceptable if it intimidates a person, who would not otherwise choose to do so, into handing over cash. Aggressive begging tips over into criminality and should be dealt with appropriately. The situation is further confused by opportunists and those who are not homeless or destitute for whom begging is simply an extra source of income.

The reasons for begging are complex and often related to deep personal crises and there is no simple, quick-fix, catch-all answer. Society has, after all, struggled with the issue for centuries. We want to improve our environment by taking begging off the streets but, at the same time, we can’t just sweep it under the carpet if we have any concern for our fellow beings.

Any “solution”, if such exists, is likely to be multi-tiered, multi-faceted and multi-agency. And we need to get on with it because there’s every sign that begging is going to be with us for a very long time to come.

* No dragon their feet as festival records smashed

MANY congratulations to the organisers of Bradford Dragonboat Festival for hitting a new fund-raising record with this year’s event.

The total of more than £55,000, with £18,000 going to the Lord Mayor’s Appeal and the rest to other charities, is phenomenal and a great testament to the efforts of both the team behind it and all the participating paddlers. The Festival, which takes place over three days at Roberts Park, in Saltaire, is now one of the highlights of the district’s calendar and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t raise even more next year!

* Airport’s badly-needed railway link should mean access for all

IT was good to see transport minister Chris Grayling acknowledging the urgent need for a railway station for Leeds Bradford Airport during his visit to officially open the newly-refurbished and extended departure lounge there.

The Telegraph & Argus has been calling for such a development for decades and the funding being put in place at the moment is very welcome. It’s important, though, that the district gets value for money and it is to be hoped that every avenue is explored to ensure the cash stretches as far as possible and provides access for the greatest number of people.

That means direct light-railway links from both Leeds and Bradford to ensure that a hinterland of up to two million people can make quick, efficient journeys to the airport – and not just those who have had to travel to Leeds station first….