Bin raiders are causing misery for Morpeth businesses.
Traders throughout the town have reported finding rubbish strewn around their premises when they go to open up.
The problem has been ongoing for some years, but businesses say there has been an increase in recent months, with almost nightly raids on their bins.
Cube juice bar owner Paul Barker said: “They have been going through everybody’s bins.
“There are obviously some desperate people about.
“People would probably be shocked to hear of this happening in Morpeth.
“You feel really sorry for them because it must be desperate measures in desperate times as they look for food and clothes.
“I don’t mind them going through the bins if that is what it is for, but please can they put the rubbish back when they’ve finished.
“It is more or less every night now and I feel sorry for the poor council lads who have to clean it up.
“It’s not just in Newgate Street, it’s happening all around.
“The worry is it will only be a matter of time before our rates go up because somebody has to pay for the mess to be cleared.”
Age UK Manager Cecilie Cromar says the charity shop’s bins have also been targeted, but it is more to do with anti-social behaviour than need.
“It’s a problem all the time,” she said.
“I’ve been here 16 years now and it’s always been happening, but it is probably worse now than it was.
“We have got our bins chained up and padlocked, but they break the lock.
“It’s not that they’re taking anything from the bins, they’re just making a mess.
“There are no clothes in there because we sell them or they go to the rag man if they’re not suitable for sale. We also recycle a lot so it is just total rubbish in there.
“This is just people being disruptive.”
Barnabas Safe and Sound Chief Executive Chris Menzies, whose charity supports young people in housing crisis, also believes the problem is one of anti-social behaviour.
And he says clients of the charity are sometimes wrongly blamed for the mess.
“I think this is anti-social behaviour, it is not need at all,” he said.
“There are certain people in the town who haven’t responded to support. It has caused a lot of difficulties for a lot of people.
“I totally sympathise with the traders and have spoken to them about the problem. The assumption sometimes is that it is our residents who are doing it, but we have got no issues with any of our residents at the moment.
“There are people who are in severe hardship, but the Wansbeck Valley Food Bank is making a significant contribution towards supporting those people. People can get food there without resorting to crime.”
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: “We are aware of this issue in Morpeth town centre. In response, patrols are being carried out at key times and CCTV monitored regularly to both prevent and detect further incidents. Officers are also working closely with local authority partners.”
A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the issue in some shopping areas of Morpeth and our enforcement teams are working closely with local businesses and Northumbria Police to identify culprits. Whilst bin locks have been fitted, efforts to combat the problem are being frustrated by them being cut off again. We will continue to work to overcome the issue.”