The recent influx of beggars is due to COVID-19 and the economic crisis rippling through society

Iasi launches ‘Say no to begging!’ campaign

Iasi launches ‘Say no to begging!’ campaign

The mayor said social marginalisation is a problem, to which he had devoted maximum attention

Yesterday, the mayor of the Romanian city of Iasi, Mihai Chirica, announced the start of a new programme through the Direcţiei de Asistenţă Socială (Social Assistance Directorate) to reduce begging in the city. The extensive campaign began on 25 August and will continue to 16 September, targeting some 206 cases of begging and homelessness across the city.

Say ‘no’ to begging!

The new campaign is called “Spune nu cerşetoriei!” (Say no to begging!) and aims to identify beggars, assess their social situation and inform them of the social assistance services they can access. At the same time, the second tier of the project will target regular people and inform them of the consequences of encouraging begging. The campaign will also look for additional legislation in this regard.

According to the Romanian information agency, AGERPRESS, in the press conference introducing the new campaign, Mayor Chirica stated that begging, school dropouts and social marginalisation are problems that he was devoting his maximum attention to. He explained that these phenomena are very important for the community of Iasi, as they can be very harmful in the long term.

He continued by identifying the cause of the recent influx of beggars as COVID-19 and the economic crisis rippling across the disadvantaged regions in Romania and said that local authorities have to intervene swiftly. Concurrently, he tried to soften his message by clarifying that this is not about fighting altruism and a ‘care for thy neighbour’ attitude. Rather, it was the city’s attempt to control a ‘phenomenon’.

A policy of austere generosity

The police have recognised 206 beggars in Iasi since the start of the year, 25 of whom are from the city itself. 120 of them were male and 80 were female, with local authorities identifying six minors between the age of 14 and 18.

In the first phase of the campaign, the Iasi Direcţiei de Asistenţă Comunitară (Community Assistance Department) will collaborate with the police to identify the beggars and the homeless people. They will do this by requesting proper identification documents from each person and if an official identity cannot be established, the matter will be resolved before the regional court.

The aim behind this heavy-handed approach is to gauge the socio-material condition of every person the campaign targets. Later, some, but not all, of the identified beggars will go into the Emergency Social Centre for Recovery and Integration “CA Rosetti”. The plan also calls for beggars to receive two meals a day at the social canteen as well as a series of allowances, though these were not specified.

The second stage of the campaign will start at the beginning of September and will feature teams, put together by the municipality, going into areas with a lot of traffic and talking with citizens about the consequences of encouraging beggars.

On 16 September, the campaign will close with newly formed legislative proposals.

Being poor is not a crime: a counterpoint

The European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) seems to disagree with Iasi’s heavy-handed approach to tackling homelessness. They published a report in 2015 titled “Criminalising homeless people – banning begging in the EU” in which they outline the devastating societal effects of criminalising homelessness and the various activities that come with it (e.g. begging).

According to their report, punitive legislation in this regard can lead to deepening the cycle of poverty, while creating an atmosphere of discrimination and stigmatisation of disadvantaged people. Criminalising begging often targets a vulnerable group’s only means of survival.

The report is very clear in its statement: “Poverty and homelessness are not lifestyle choices, and people should not be punished for their situation”.



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