CITY business leaders have raised questions about organised begging on Patrick Street amid fears that genuine homeless people in need of help will lose out.
English Market trader Pat O’Connell, president of the Cork Business Association, said legitimate questions must be asked about the current levels of begging on the city’s main retail street.
Almost every doorway on Patrick Street has been occupied in recent weeks, with gardaí raising concerns that organised beggars are taking up residence on the street in the run-up to Christmas.
Immigrant support group, NASC, has also highlighted the potential problem of vulnerable people being trafficked into Cork to beg on the streets for organised criminal gangs.
Mr O’Connell said people who are being forced to beg should be identified and helped.
“Human lives deserve better than that,” said Mr O’Connell.
“If there is some Mr Big then he really needs to be brought to heed because that is no way to treat people.
“Someone somewhere needs to have a serious look at what the hell is going on in our city. I should say our cities because it’s not just Cork,” he added.
The identity and origin of many homeless on the streets are unknown and this needs to change if they are to receive help, according to Mr O’Connell.
It’s understood that some of those taking up spots in doorways have not sought help or shelter from homeless charities such as Cork Simon.
The Evening Echo reported last week that the Immigration Support Centre, NASC, were concerned that vulnerable people were being trafficked in from abroad and forced to beg on the streets of Cork.
“I would suspect that people are being brought into the country and forced to beg,” said Mr O’Connell.
“Somebody seems to be dropping in their blankets at night, collecting them in the morning, and collecting the money because those people who are collecting it aren’t keeping it.
They’re exchanging the coins for cash in the market and it’s quite a considerable amount.
“It’s too much of a coincidence when we have 15 or 16 people begging on our streets, probably from the same country, and that’s not our country.
“It’s just horrendous that in 2017 people could be treated in such a way,” he added.
Mr O’Connell also called on the gardaí to find out if organised begging is rampant in Cork.
“To me, it’s a garda situation,” he said.
“Where is this money going? Who is getting it? These questions need to be asked.”
Homeless charities are losing out on much-needed donations as people are scammed out of money, according to Mr O’Connell.
“People are giving money to homeless people, hoping they’re going towards a worthy cause. It could be going to someone who’s laughing at people’s generosity and being very cynical.
“Local organisations who rely on funding to keep their organisations going and offer beds and food to homeless people are losing out too, especially around Christmas when everyone is a bit more conscious of people’s misfortunes.
“There are people who genuinely need to sleep in a doorway for various reasons and you’ll see them in the odd doorway but this is orchestrated, it’s someone taking advantage of a terrible situation,” he added.
Mr O’Connell said that the housing crisis needs to be fixed urgently and in the meantime, organised begging needs to stop.
“The homeless crisis needs to be addressed and there might be no quick solution to that but people shouldn’t be preying on these types of situations,” he said.
“It’s bad enough when you see the genuinely homeless people who are there for various reasons, misfortune, addiction, mental health issues, on the streets but when you suspect some people have been brought in to beg, in those freezing conditions, it’s beyond human tolerance.”