THE RAIN is lashing down on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street and footsteps hurry past. Occasionally they falter – one woman stops, bends down with a quick, tight smile and drops some coins in a cup. “Thanks, m’am,” says Nicole with a nod.

She’s wearing a big jacket and orange hi-vis and has folded her 18-month-old dog, Rocky, into a sleeping bag to protect him from the rain. She’s bundled him into her arms like the baby, she says, she wasn’t allowed to keep.

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The wind keeps tugging at the picnic rug she’s sat on, gusts tipping over the cup in front of her. There’s not much in it right now, but she says she can make a decent amount begging. And, aged 25, she doesn’t see any better options for how to make money while coping with trauma and a heroin addiction. “It’s just what I need to do,” she says.

But choice is what Glasgow City Council claims it wants to provide – both to her and to the public ­– as it announced its alternative giving scheme last week.

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It claims it will “transform the lives” of people like Nicole, begging in Glasgow every day. Under the scheme – which is based on similar ones in Manchester and Liverpool and is due to be rolled out later this year – contactless giving points will be installed and a website taking donations set up, giving the public the choice to contribute to a fund to pay for practical items that might help those people out of the lifestyle that’s led them to beg.

Partners such as the Simon Community and Glasgow Homelessness Network, who work with vulnerable people, will apply to the fund on their behalf. Decisions on support will be made quickly and in collaboration with people who have experience of begging.

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Businesses and other city organisations will be invited to become ambassadors, providing “in kind” financial support or work experience for suitable candidates.

Firms tendering for council contracts may also be encouraged to back the scheme via “community benefit” clauses.

The city’s Begging Strategy group spoke to Cardiff and Cambridge authorities, which have both used public service protection orders (PSPO) to move on people begging. In England – unlike Scotland – begging is a criminal offence under the Vagrancy Act of 1824.

Edinburgh City Council, which has commissioned research from Shelter Scotland about how to deal with begging, says it is watching closely. Councillor Kate Campbell, chair of the council’s homeless taskforce, told the Sunday National that it will consider rolling out a similar scheme if the Glasgow one is successful.

The evidence that it reduces begging is not yet there. Nicole, for one, is unconvinced. “It’s good if people want to do that to help,” she says. “But I’m not sure it really works for us when we’re begging for money in your hand.”

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Peter, who says he’s been sleeping rough outside Buchanan Galleries, and asked Nicole to watch his stuff while he changes his wet clothes, is not sure either.

He was paying someone to sleep on his coach, now there’s a bouncer in town who’ll sometimes take pity and put him up. The Glasgow Winter Night Shelter is free and not full, but he says he’s barred following a fight.

“Just before Christmas I was attacked and robbed,” he says. “When they opened the shelter I bumped into the lads that robbed us. It would have me or him, and well, it ended up him.”

He claims the council say there’s nothing available and that he’s not priority.

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“But how can I not be a priority if I’m sleeping on the streets?” he asks. “This is absolute hell.”

Housing First, which gives everyone who needs one a flat and puts support around that, is rolling out and there is real optimism about the changes it could make. But that doesn’t help Peter this weekend.

OF course, not everyone who is homeless begs. And neither, as it is often pointed out, is everyone who is begging homeless. The Simon Community Scotland, whose dedicated street work team know all the regular faces well, reckon many do have some sort of accommodation though that includes temporary flats, B&Bs and hostels.

“The reality is that whatever the reasons for people begging, it is a desperate, lonely and dangerous existence and not something that people just choose to do,” says Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, who claims that many people spending their days – if not their nights – on the streets have experienced trauma and been failed by the state.

“Our experience is that no-one who is begging would truly choose to do so if they had another option.” He sees merit in the council’s alternative giving scheme but claims it will only work if other services stepped up too.

“Commitment is also needed from public sector services, including health and housing, to ensure that the right help is provided for as long as it is needed,” he says. “Those begging are among the most marginalised in our communities, burdened with some of the most complex problems.”

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Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis who chaired the Scottish Government’s Homeless and Rough Sleeping action group, agrees.

“If people are desperate enough to be begging they need help and support,” he adds. “It’s happening everywhere and the interactions that people have with the welfare policy are going to make things even worse.” The city council acknowledges this, with a digital inclusion officer now part of the street team, helping people apply for benefits. Attitudes to begging in Scottish cities are much more compassionate than those in many English ones. In November last year it emerged that police in Manchester had arrested 84 people for begging in just a few months.

Then there are the poster campaigns – Nottingham Council became the latest in line in 2016 when it launched posters warning the public: “Begging: watch your money go up in smoke/down the drain/get wasted.” It was a riff on the Killing with Kindness posters – a much copied concept that originated in London and was backed by homeless charity Thames Reach.

Sparkes understands the sentiment but doesn’t support the message. “The answer is not to stop being kind,” he says.

THERE have been discussions about criminalising begging in Scottish cities too – Aberdeen, Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow have all raised concerns in recent years. Calls to “get tough” sometimes come from businesses, struggling with how to deal with someone begging in their doorways. But when criminalisation was proposed by a Glasgow Tory Councillor Tony Curtis last December it met with fierce opposition from council leader Susan Aitken.

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But will this latest scheme, which the council says will pay for help to get off the streets by funding interview clothes and work equipment, really help change things?

Mel, a volunteer for the Help the Homeless Group, which runs a Thursday evening soup kitchen in the city’s Cadogan Street is another sceptical voice. “How many people are begging on the street for clothes for an interview?” she asks.

“There used to be various companies that would pay for things like that. I feel like it’s a cop-out. Joe Public pays for those things so the Government don’t have to. I don’t think it will help people begging in the slightest.”

Jim Barclay, a homeless worker with personal experience of homelessness, takes a more balanced view. “This is not about stopping people from begging – it’s another option. But it needs to be thought about creatively.”

He agrees it’s unlikely that a pair of smart shoes and an interview suit are going to be the most helpful things to fund. “But if we think about how it could support someone that extra funding could provide different

options,” he says. “Can it mean that someone can get into rehab

tomorrow instead having to join a four-week waiting list? Can it be used for travel costs? What is it that people need? We need to be flexible and innovative in our approach to this.

“Is it going to stop people begging? To be honest I don’t think so. But the status quo isn’t working so let’s try it.”

AT the Lodging House Mission just off the Gallowgate the queue is beginning to form for a hot lunch of stew and potatoes and guests from the night shelter dozing on arm chairs at the back of the hall. Worker Chris tells me that several of the people who come here will beg when they have to.

Addictions, mental health issues, and an almost intolerably harsh welfare system make life hard for many people here. While it’s claimed people can make between £60 and £120 a day begging, there’s little evidence here of much profit being made.

Sitting at a crowded table, Derek Hay tells me he was begging last night, staying out too late to make it to the night shelter. He says he’s been homeless for five years and is angry because he feels his housing officer has done nothing to help him. He talks about his childhood trauma and his addiction issues. “I don’t like scripts,” he says of attempts to move from heroin to prescriptions for methadone or subutex.

He’s not heard of the alternative giving scheme, though other people round this table have. “But I’ve begged for all sorts of stuff to be honest.” So maybe. Maybe it will help.

His friend John steps in. He was street homeless several years back on returning from London, refused housing because he was not judged to have a local connection, and slept rough regularly.

He’s sat on the streets “with a cup and a wee bit of hope” too and to his mind this scheme will take money away from those that need it most.

“What if Jo Bloggs isn’t using the services that are making the applications for money? Some people don’t trust services. They chose to sleep out there rather than use them. It’s just another control mechanism.”

Getting off the streets isn’t straight forward, he says; there is no x= y. It’s about providing the support people actually need, working with their ability and desire to change their lives. Now he has a temporary flat, and he’s in recovery – not a straight road – but overall he’s doing well and proud of it.

What really makes a difference? It’s simple in some ways, he says. “It’s when someone starts looking at you as a person. That’s what changed for me.”