A campaigner who started a petition over a notice at Brighton station asking people not to give beggars money has explained why he opposes the sign.
Johnbosco Nwogbo, who’s petition has almost 500 signatures, said: “Have you ever considered having a conversation with a stranger who begs you for money, where you engage kindly and respectfully with them?
“This has probably never even occurred to most people. For the most part, we, as a society, have stigmatized people who beg, either by suggesting that they are all dealing with drug addiction or by saying that they are aggressive and ‘threatening’. Some of us won’t bear to even look at that person.
“We refer to those who are forced by misfortune to beg as ‘they’, ‘them’ (which is fair, except when we use those terms to perpetuate stigmatization), as against ‘us’, ‘we’ upstanding, clean, good, hardworking citizens. This is the attitude that permeates Govia Thameslink’s notice when it says ‘do not encourage beggars by giving them money’.
“It is easier to oversimplify people’s experiences, and dehumanize them, if we don’t engage with them on a personal level; if we just talk about them, but never to or with them.
“Some people who beg will be dealing with addiction. Some are homeless and even sleep rough. Some could have just lost their wallet and need a few bucks to catch the train back home to Lewes. And, yes, some will be making mischief.
“We have no prayer of finding out the truth about each person if we don’t engage with people individually.
“We all know that everyone’s story is different. Why don’t we get to know each other’s stories?
“Engaging with the individual person in front of you who has asked you for money doesn’t necessarily mean giving that person money. Engaging with them can mean that you decide it is not wise to give them money directly.
“But it makes us more human to engage with each other, and not stigmatize each other. Govia Thameslink’s notice is guilty of lumping everyone who begs together in a way that dehumanizes and stigmatizes people. It is a blot on our city. We should never accept it. And I know that most Brightonians will not.”
Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust, who has spoken out on the issue, said: “Over many years, I have spoken to dozens of clients of Brighton Housing Trust, not least those who are in or have gone through our Addiction Services, and it is their consistent view that they begged, not for food or shelter, but to feed their addiction. That is the evidence I rely on.
“The Govia sign, and the view I take, is not anti-poor, it is anti-addiction, and on that basis I urge the public not to give money to people who are begging but to charities who are helping people to move off the streets.”
A Govia Thameslink spokesperson said: “The police seek to reduce begging because it is often associated with drug use and organised crime. We support the police’s efforts for the benefit of our passengers.”
Mr Nwogbo said: “Govia Thameslink has suggested throughout that their notice is meant to help the police fight organised crime. They have however failed to say whether the police supports the installation of the notice, and whether they sought advice from the police before installing it.
“They have also failed to make public the evidence that shows the overwhelming link they suggest exists between begging and organised crime in Brighton. Placing a notice that tars, based on what they’ve said, an entire group of people, with such a serious crime, should not be done lightly. I think that sign is a deplorable, and inhumane blot on our city. It should go.”
To view the petition, visit: you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/remove-the-anti-poor-notice-at-brighton-station