Trading Hell: ‘We cannot force people to do something’, says homeless charity
Last updated Mar 19, 2024

Yesterday, we outlined the statistics on Harrogate town centre crime and revealed a shocking increase in shoplifting.

The figures matter because crime data influences where police use their resources.

Traders in Harrogate have low confidence that reports of offences such as drug taking, anti-social behaviour and shoplifting will be dealt with.

They also point the finger at particular groups who they feel to a greater or lesser extent are responsible for issues in the town, such as rough sleepers and young people.

Aside from the police, there are multiple agencies in Harrogate from probation to mental health services who help to support those people and try to steer them away from committing anti-social behaviour.

One of the charities that has caught the traders’ attention due to its proximity to town is Harrogate Homeless Project.

The Stray Ferret visited the centre to speak to its senior staff about the issues in the town and how they support rough sleepers.

Rough sleepers

The charity is well-known in the town for its services for the homeless, such as its Springboard Day Centre in the Wesley Chapel and its hostel on Bower Road.

The day centre is described as “one stop shop” for people to get daily services, such as cooked meals and healthcare, while the hostel is the charity’s overnight accommodation.

Francis McAllister, chief executive at the charity, said the project was well aware of the concerns of businesses in relation to rough sleepers.

As previously reported, there have been flashpoints in the town in recent years with businesses complaining over rough sleepers causing anti-social behaviour at Crescent Gardens and at the back of Primark.

Giuliano Achilli and Francis McAllister.

Giuliano Achilli and Francis McAllister.

In an effort to build bridges with traders, the charity has given out a direct number for its head of client services, Giuliano Achilli, should they have issues with people considered to be rough sleeping.

Sometimes the charity will know who the people are and ask them to move on.

Mr McAllister said:

“We will always support other organisations. Giuliano will go and speak to them and some times they will listen to him more than others. The majority of businesses have his number.

“We know that it is an issue and we know that it annoys people.”

But the charity can only do so much.

It will offer those sleeping rough in the town support with accommodation, cooked meals and health. However, if they do not accept then that is the extent of its power.

Mr Achilli said:

“I cannot force people to do something.”

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Mr McAllister explains that a lot of those who sleep rough have “deep rooted” issues and lead chaotic lives.

The project is there to support them and the wider area – this includes helping police if any of the people using the service commit a crime, such as drug misuse or anti-social behaviour.

But one property owner feels the charity could do more.

Russell Davidson, who owners three blocks of property on nearby Oxford Street, said he believed the project should confiscate alcohol from people who use the charity.

“I’ve spoken to the man who monitors the CCTV there, and he says they hand in the booze when the going into Harrogate Homeless Project, because they have to as a condition of being admitted. 

“But then Francis gives them their booze back when the leave in the morning – and they’re out on the streets again. They shouldn’t be given their booze back – it should be taken off them as a condition of having a meal, a shower and a bed for the night.”

However, Mr McAllister said the charity had no legal powers to confiscate property and that such a move would not be a solution for people with addictions.

In response, he said:

“They are people who are disadvantaged, living in poverty and frequently addicted to alcohol and/or drugs sometimes both. The Springboard Day Centre is there to support these people who are trying to live a normal life.

“They have rights – the same as every other citizen – we offer the opportunity for other agencies to meet with them and create the opportunity to engage with services that can help them.

“Harrogate Homeless Project does not have the legal powers to confiscate property even if we wanted to, nor are we about searching people that we are seeking to help. What is suggested is not a solution.

“If anyone wants to buy alcohol it is readily available in the centre of Harrogate. The long-term solution is to spend time, effort and cash to help people manage their addictions and develop the skills to maintain a home which will get them permanently off the streets. It is difficult, it takes time, it takes resources and that is what we do.”

Young people

Rough sleepers are not the only group of people that traders feel cause issues in the town. They also pointed to young people as being part of the problem.

Teenagers have been involved in high profile incidents in the town which have led to the courts being involved.

In January 2022, police arrested three boys, aged 14, 15 and 17, after reports of young people on the roof of Harrogate Theatre at 4am.

The theatre was undergoing a £1 million refurbishment to its roof at the time.

The boys later appeared before North Yorkshire youth court and all admitted damaging scaffolding to the value of £300 and causing £500 damage to a Ford transit van belonging to nearby Scandinavian cafe Baltzersen’s.

Traders have also complained of school children “flooding” the town centre, which they say leaves them on guard for any potential thefts.

North Yorkshire Council runs youth services which aim to prevent reoffending and give a proportionate response to crimes committed by young people.

Specifically, the authority runs what is called a youth outcomes panel.

The panel, which is a partnership between police, North Yorkshire Youth Justice Service and York Youth Offending Team, decides what action, if any, is most appropriate to pursue.

It also encourages a restorative approach with victims and looks to address the causes of the young person’s offending.

The Stray Ferret requested an interview with youth services at North Yorkshire Council to ask what is being done to prevent young people offending in the town and whether it felt anti-social behaviour was a problem in the area.

We received the following statement from Mel Hutchinson, North Yorkshire Council’s assistant director for children and families:

“As a children and families service, we regularly meet with our partners and have not been advised of concerns relating to anti-social behaviour of children or young people (up to 18 years) in Harrogate town centre and neither have our locality teams who are based in the town.

“North Yorkshire Youth are commissioned by us to deliver a programme of activities for 10 to 17-year-olds across the county, supporting voluntary projects, clubs and providing 17 youth clubs within communities.  Further details can be found at

“We also work in partnership with the Office of Police Fire and Crime Commissioner (OFPCC) and our community safety partnership to secure additional funding to deliver a targeted preventative programme for children aged 10 to 17 years, who get into trouble with the law, helping them to stay away from crime.

“Over the last three years, funding has been secured from the Ministry of Justice, the OFPCC and the Integrated Care Board (ICB) for a targeted early intervention scheme called. The Change Direction/Turnaround Programme. The aim of the programme is to prevent young people aged from 10 to 17 from becoming involved in crime or anti-social behaviour by offering them and their families support. Children, including those open to the Youth Justice Service, can be referred onto the programme.

“In addition, our Early Help – Children and Families Services work closely with schools to ensure children, young people and their families receive the right support at the right time to stop problems escalating. The service is also available to children and their families in North Yorkshire who have been referred to us.”

Who has responsibility?

In this report, we have focused on two agencies who help to tackle a complex issue in Harrogate – but there are others which also work on the issues on a daily basis.

Despite all these different agencies supporting those responsible for some of the town’s issues, traders feel the system is simply not working.

As Harrogate Homeless Project and youth services lack any enforcement power, the extent of their support can only go so far.

Ultimately, the responsibility to enforce the law falls to the police.

Tomorrow, in an interview with chief inspector Simon Williamson, we ask the police if they could do more to give confidence to businesses in Harrogate.