A NEW campaign to get beggars off Blackburn's streets is urging visitors not to hand them cash.

Starting today, council bosses are asking residents to 'help stop begging on the streets by giving to charity instead'.

Shoppers, visitors and workers are being warned that giving money may trap beggars into a cycle of addiction and rough sleeping.

Instead generous locals are urged to give money to charity to support schemes to get beggars off the streets and into homes and drug and alcohol treatment.

The scheme is the latest stage of a two-year project which has already seen 'outreach street teams’ cut the numbers of people regularly begging on the street from 49 to 15.

The '#begforchange' campaign was launched by Blackburn with Darwen Council alongside Blackburn’s Business Improvement District (BID) and charity THOMAS (Those on The Margins of a Society).

It is backed by former drug and alcohol addicts Lee, 42, and Dave, 48, who feature on a short video after being helped into rehab in Blackburn.

Sayyed Osman, council director of localities, said the campaign had back-up powers with the police to move on beggars under the town centre's Public Space Prevention Orders, but hopes stopping 'generous people' giving money to beggars would ensure they sought help.

He said many were addicted to drink and drugs with synthetic cannabis 'Spice' a growing problem.

The campaign wants individuals to give to charities, such as THOMAS, which runs a drop-in centre feeding 50 people a day and an 18-month rehab programme for 21 addicts.

The outreach teams will continue to work with those seeking cash on the street.

Cllr Phil Riley, borough regeneration boss, said: "This is not about being heavy-handed or coercing people, it is a compassionate and charitable approach to deal with a complicated problem.

"We are not naive but we hope this can make a real difference.

"A lot of effort has been made to improve Blackburn town centre and beggars do not help with that.

"Generous Blackburn people giving money to those on the street does not help but enables them to continue with a dangerous lifestyle and damaging addictions."

The campaign slogan is: "Help stop begging on the street; give to charity instead."

Harriet Roberts, Blackburn BID manager, said: “Street beggars can be intimidating.

"Towns and cities across the UK are grappling with this problem and discussing similar solutions to educating visitors. We want an approach where support is there for those who genuinely need it.”

THOMAS founder, Father Jim McCartney, said: “When people are begging and can make a living from begging, they don’t see a reason to stop.

“It’s not a good life. It’s an impoverished one and issues are not being dealt with, which led someone to beg in the first place.

“We really want people to be generous and keep on giving, but want them to know that giving to people begging on the street can be counter-productive.”

People can donate online by visiting www.justgiving.com/t-h-o-m-a-s or make cash gift in many Blackburn shops and businesses.

Lee, who came to Blackburn as school boy is now six months drug and alcohol free after many years begging.

He said: "You think you’re helping those begging by giving them money but you’re not, you are making it worse.”

Dave, now back in touch with his five children and more than 100 days clean and sober, said: "If you get the money begging, you can go on in addiction.

"I was once given £1,000 and two days later I had spent it all on drugs and drink.

"Getting someone off the streets and into recovery is the best thing that can happen to them."

There will be outdoor advertising in Blackburn and a social media campaign using the hashtag #begforchange.

Mr Osman said the street teams come across beggars collecting £60 a day, enough for several wraps of heroin at £10 or Spice at £15.

He said: "We have powers with the police and under mental health law to deal with aggressive or violent beggars, but we are looking at supportive approach for often very vulnerable people."

Cllr Riley said: “We know that the kind people of the town would want to make a lasting difference to the lives of the vulnerable people who are begging.

“This can best be done by giving to the organisations that are working day and night to help address the long term issues that result in people feeling the need to beg in the streets.”

More information can be found at www.blackburn.gov.uk.