‘There is no such thing as homelessness in Sheffield,’ says former faker after Cambridgeshire Police call Ely beggars ‘frauds’

Homelessness in Sheffield does not exist, a Sheffield Big Issue vendor said today after Cambridgeshire police claimed beggars in Ely are ‘frauds’.

Aaron Rooke, 24, of Lowedges, Sheffield said: “I find there are more beggars that gave that fake misconception than there is actual homeless people.”

He said people are housed in emergency accommodation after just one night on the street in Sheffield, so homelessness cannot exist.

“I have been in a home and done street begging myself, so I can say I have also given that fake misconception,” he said.

He added that Cambridgeshire police were right to say beggars often give a false impression of being homeless and that it happens a lot in Sheffield.

Cambridgeshire Police Sgt Phil Priestley said yesterday that there were no rough sleepers in Ely and the public were being misled.

But he told the Daily Mail there has been an increase in the number of day beggars and incidents involving them in the city in recent weeks.

Sgt Priestly added that they are making a lot of money and said the public should give them food and warm drinks instead of money, or donate to a registered charity.

Scott Szymczak, who is a member of the neighbourhood policing team for Sheffield city centre, said: “We do have very similar situations within Sheffield and I would imagine every town within South Yorkshire.”

 “We certainly have a number of individuals who have housing but choose to rough sleep and a high number of beggars who have accommodation and support but portray themselves as homeless and without.”

He added that this is often linked with drug addiction and mental health problems.

Mr Rooke said he used to smoke cannabis every day when he was homeless and suffered from mental health problems after a stint in prison.

Aaron, Big Issue North vendor
Big Issue vendor Mr Rooke

He said: “When I used to street beg, I had a blanket with me. I would make myself cold to make people feel more sorry for me.

“If I am sat on the street corner with a sleeping bag wrapped around me, you straight away think that man is homeless.

“But if I am stood here selling the Big Issue, wearing £130 trainers, you are going to think actually he is doing alright and give me less money.”

He claimed he used to beg outside Sheffield station and could make more than £50 in four hours, but said it is wrong to pretend to be homeless and beggars should be honest.

He continued: “At the end of the day if I am sat down begging because I have no benefits, but I have a home, at least tell people that. Honestly, why lie.

“That’s what I have learnt through being dishonest with people and then through being honest with people. That is why Cambridgeshire police are putting out that message,” he added.

Before becoming homeless, Mr Rooke lived in Hertfordshire and was a qualified chef.

He claimed one day he had an incident involving an ex-girlfriend and his boss, which he refused to go into.

“I lost my temper and I ended up in jail for it,” he said.

After prison he moved to his childhood town of Sheffield, but no longer had any local connections. He was homeless for just over two years before he bought a flat in Lowedges.

Ben Keegan, CEO of Roundabout Homeless Charity, said: “There is truth that a lot of people begging do have accommodation.

“But he said they still have a lot of support needs and are short of money.”

He added: “So they’re not begging and pretending to be homeless to spend their money on a Jaguar or anything like that- they’re using it to survive.”

Beggars during the day are mistaken as homeless by the public, he claimed, and make more money this way.

Homelessness is an issue in the Steel City, but it is not as bad as in Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham, he added.

Roundabout work with Framework’s Street Outreach Team to count and house beggars in Sheffield and Nottingham.

Mr Keegan said they find 25 people sleeping rough each morning in Sheffield, but believes there are more than 100 beggars in the city during the day.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there are 4,751 people sleeping rough in Britain.

Call Roundabout on 0114 253 6789.