People of Luton are 'incredibly generous to street beggars'
"The people of Luton are so incredibly generous that some individuals get locked into street life," a meeting was told.
"This is because they get all their needs met through raising money on the street," according to the town's rough sleeping coordination manager Yvonne Jackson.
Her comments were made during a presentation to the borough council's overview and scrutiny board about the impact of Covid-19 on rough sleeping.
"We found and accommodated 248 people between March 2020 and May 2021," she said.
"There were 226 people moved through emergency accommodation into supported housing pathways, private rent or reconnected to their country of origin.
"We have 13 people in emergency accommodation. We're still offering this to every person we find rough sleeping in the town for the first time.
"At its lowest, the number in Luton was three people refusing to accept any support. It's slowly creeping up and today we've ten people rough sleeping.
"The team are offering support and accommodation to those individuals, as well as safeguarding referrals and mental health assessments."
LBC's service director housing Colin Moone said: "In the town centre now you'd probably see some beggars and other people who may look like they're rough sleeping, but generally speaking they've got accommodation.
"They chose to be outside drinking and maybe taking drugs. It's an issue around perception more than anything else."
A report to the board said: "There were no Covid-19 deaths among the local rough sleeping population.
"And there was recognition from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that Luton is one of the top performing areas in the country for its Covid response for people sleeping rough."
Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks praised the "excellent work during the pandemic" getting people off the street and into somewhere safe.
"It was possible not just because of the dedication of the team, but also with the government handing out money to pay for it.
"Is there any prospect of this funding continuing?" he asked.
Mr Moone replied: "The government started funding rough sleeping around four years ago.. There's no indication it won't continue.
"The council has to look more long-term. The numbers aren't large, although there's a general housing crisis in Luton.
"There are some entrenched rough sleepers who prove difficult to deal with."
Ms Jackson added: "The national rough sleeping strategy is until 2027, so there'll be funding until then.
"There isn't a constant pot of money for getting people in, but it will trickle through from the government at different stages."
Labour Biscot councillor Kashif Choudhry wondered whether the three refusing accommodation was because of mental health issues.
Ms Jackson explained: "With the ease of lockdown measures allowing people to return to the streets, and the increasing availability of drugs in Luton, some people are choosing to leave their accommodation.
"They will rough sleep and raise money on the pavements to fund their drug use.
"That will always happen. We're getting more investment to improve access to drug treatment."
She referred to the Big Change Luton scheme, "where people can give to a pot of money, instead of to individuals" on the street.
"These individuals can then apply to access that money to help with rent deposit or furnishing a property," she told the board.
"That's really an education tool for members of the public. It's very hard to walk past someone who's raising money."
Mr Moone added: "We fear a place like Luton will draw people here. That's why the public space protection order and all of those things are important."
Liberal Democrat Sundon Park councillor Anna Pedersen, who chairs the board, suggested there should be more publicity for the Big Change Luton scheme.
The board agreed to ask the executive to publicise this alternative giving strategy.