Efforts to curb 'professional' beggars in Weston-super-Mare

image captionThe council says it has noticed an increase in begging in Weston-super-Mare

Sleeping bags are being confiscated in Weston-super-Mare in an attempt to curb professional beggars from making money by pretending to be homeless.

North Somerset Council said it would take the items and leave a receipt so they could be reclaimed.

Town centre manager Steve Townsend said: "The vast majority of these individuals have places to live."

The YMCA backs the idea but wants to monitor it to ensure genuine homeless people do not have their items taken.

The two-week trial is due to start on Thursday.

Set up pitch

According to the council and the YMCA, rough sleeping has fallen in Weston over the past five years.

Latest figures showed there were three genuine rough sleepers in the town.

Nationally, the government has reported a rise in the number of people sleeping rough in England compared to last year.

However, the YMCA in Somerset said the number of those begging had gone up. And, from its outreach work it had found these people were "sofa-surfing" or out of work and education.

Mr Townsend said: "Some even travel from outside of Weston and set up their pitch early each morning because of the income they can generate in a day from passers-by."

'Vulnerable position'

Chief executive officer YMCA Somerset Coast, Martin Hodgson, said: "We'll still offer support to those people because there will be a reason why they're sat on the streets begging.

"We'll also work with them to try to identify why they're putting themselves in that vulnerable position because I don't think anyone would want that as a lifestyle choice."

"This is January, and the nights are cold, so the last thing we want to do is take sole possessions from someone who is sleeping out overnight on our streets," added Mr Townsend.

The council currently works with two charities, YMCA and St Mungo's, to provide outreach services for homeless people.

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