BEGGARS on the streets of a North-East town turned out not to be homeless, a survey has revealed.

It found that out of 27 people asking strangers for money in Middesbrough just one was genuinely homeless.

A joint operation between Cleveland Police and Middlesbrough Council has halved the blight in its town centre.

A combination of enforcement measures and supportive interventions led to a 54 per cent decrease in incidents of begging between October and December last year.

During October there were more than 30 reported incidents of begging compared with fewer than 15 in December.

Action was taken by the council’s Neighbourhood Safety Team and Neighbourhood Policing Team, following a rise in reports of begging and anti-social behaviour in the Linthorpe/Park and Middlehaven.

Between October and December a total of 27 individuals were identified as engaged in begging in the problem areas – although only one was genuinely homeless and has since been found accommodation.

Out of the offenders, 22 were living in Middlesbrough, two in Stockton, one was from Hartlepool and two from areas outside Teesside.

Neighbourhood Safety Officer, Andy Shippey said: “The word beggar is commonly understood to describe someone who is homeless and without money or possessions, but of the 27 beggars identified in this joint operation, only one did not have a housing tenancy.

“Unfortunately, begging is often a means to support drug, alcohol or substance abuse, or simply to gain money.

“Begging affects businesses in the town centre, increases the fear of crime and deters visitors from shopping in those areas the town worst affected.”

Joint interviews and Acceptable Behaviour Contracts were conducted with 22 offenders with support and intervention offered on access to food banks and drug and alcohol recovery services.

Anti-social behaviour orders were issued against three of the most prolific offenders and warnings issued to others.

Councillor Charlie Rooney, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive member for Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “There are a number of local support services for those people in need of housing, access to food banks or assistance with drug and alcohol issues.”

Acting Sergeant Gary Chalmers, of the Cleveland Police local Neighbourhood Policing Team, added: “In partnership with Middlesbrough Council we are dealing robustly with the beggars in the town centre, while ensuring they also have the opportunity to engage with support services.”