Residents and visitors are being urged once again not to give cash to street beggars amid concerns of organised begging in Woking town centre.
The call comes following information that suggests organised criminal gangs could be operating in the borough and across Surrey.
Instead, well-meaning members of the public are encouraged to donate directly to the York Road Project, Woking’s emergency night shelter available for adults who find themselves homeless. The project also provides specialist support to individuals on matters such as housing, addiction, health and wellbeing.
Inspector Andy Greaves, Woking Borough Commander at Surrey Police, said: “People in the UK are renowned for their care, compassion and generosity. Unfortunately, there are some who understand this and are prepared to exploit the kindness of the passing public for their own means.
“We are aware of a number of individuals who have recently arrived in Woking town centre with possible links to organised street begging gangs that are operating across Surrey. We believe the individuals could have arrived in the UK with a promise of work which has not materialised and are forced to beg instead with all proceeds handed over to the gangs.
“We are not suggesting people shouldn’t help the most vulnerable in our community, but rather support local organisations with their financial donations knowing they will be used safely and appropriately.”
Cath Stamper, Director of York Road Project, said: “Sadly, not all of the people who beg are homeless or reside in Woking.
“Our outreach team has tried on a number of occasions to talk to the individuals who have recently arrived in the town so we can understand their situation and how we can provide them with the appropriate support.
“However, this has always been declined and we are particularly concerned because we believe these individuals could be extremely vulnerable.”
Camilla Edmiston, Community Safety Manager, said: “By taking a multi-agency approach, we are actively seeking to raise awareness of the dangers of giving to street beggars amongst members of the public.
“Unfortunately, there are beggars who prey on the generosity of well-meaning visitors to Woking town centre, so we are asking the public to be mindful that giving money direct to beggars could be supporting organised crime.”
“There are dedicated local support services and charities, such as York Road Project, already doing positive work with these groups of people. Any individual who is homeless in Woking can access the York Road Project for assistance including advice, accommodation, food, clothing and showers.”
“If people do wish to directly support people on the streets, by all means buy them hot food or a drink, just don’t give them your money.”
Anyone with information about organised begging in Woking should call 101. In an emergency, always call 999.
To find out more about the York Road Project or to make a donation, please visit www.yorkroadproject.org.uk