BEGGARS spotted on the streets of Yarm have prompted calls for more support and action.

Town councillors discussed the issue at a meeting on Tuesday night after acting chairman Cllr John Coulson brought up an alleged assault.

The debate sparked calls to see what Stockton Council was doing to help those asking for money in the town.

Cllr Philip Addison told colleagues he’d seen two beggars last week near the Natwest bank – later adding he’d been asked for money on one occasion.

Cllr Alan Moffitt wanted to see those begging receive support after recalling a programme which suggested anyone was only three salary cheques away from being on the streets.

“You lose your job, you can’t pay your mortgage and you’re on the streets within a matter of three months,” he said. “Just because they’re on the streets, it doesn’t make them a bad person.”

Cllr Coulson agreed it was a case of “there but for the grace of God (go I)”.

Cllr Moffit added: “We should be looking to help them get off the streets rather than moving them on so they’re someone else’s problem.”

Stockton Council officials do work to provide support to those homeless and those begging through housing, adult social care, children’s and health teams.

Perceptions and misconceptions about rough sleepers and beggars have also been debated by Stockton councillors in the past – with meetings told many beggars aren’t homeless.

The difference between “begging” and “aggressive begging” has also cropped up over some shoppers in Stockton being intimidated at times.

Last year saw the council launch efforts to recruit 12 extra enforcement officers to deal with aggressive begging and parking problems in the borough’s town centres.

At the time, cabinet member Cllr Steve Nelson said it was a “very emotive subject”.

He added: “We understand that and we also understand there can be a whole range of reasons behind begging. People see beggars and they assume they’re rough sleepers, which in our borough is hardly ever the case. Like most complex problems, it’s about finding a fair balance.

“We actually have a holistic approach to dealing with this and we can reassure people that we always do everything we possibly can to help the person involved.

“That includes offering help with any drugs or alcohol issues they may be experiencing, and helping with any difficulties claiming benefits or seeking employment.

“The problems occur when begging spills over into aggressive behaviour or harassment, which can be very frightening for those on the receiving end of it.

“In those cases we have to step in to protect the public and if such behaviour continues, it leaves us with no choice but to take formal action as a last resort.”

Former Yarm mayor Cllr Peter Monck said they should follow what happened with an upcoming probe on the possibility of bringing a “public space protection order” (PSPO) to the borough.

He added: “This includes a ban on begging in town centres – they’re midway through gathering evidence so we should keep an eye on that.”

Cllr Coulson believed a problem was what was actually classed as begging.

He added: “A lot of these people are very cute – they don’t actually beg – they just sit there and someone gives them something. That’s not begging. Unfortunately, the legislation is that – if they’re not physically approaching people and asking for goods then it’s open to debate.”

Stockton’s crime and disorder select committee has heard months of evidence on weighing up a possible PSPO for town centres.

Neighbouring Middlesbrough is home to a clampdown zone at the moment in TS1 – with powers to issue fines for begging, spitting and bin rummaging among other breaches.

But the policy has come under fire from civil liberties group Liberty in the past. The Stockton review continues this month. Yarm councillors agreed to write to Stockton chiefs to see what action it could take in the meantime.