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Bylaw targets begging in public places

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 09:16 26/05/2014

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Auckland Council's begging bylaw could help people on the streets who have had their choices "cut off", a business association head says.

The Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw, which comes into effect today, bans begging in a way that might intimidate or be considered a nuisance.

The bylaw covers public places, including road reserves, footpaths, parks and benches, and public transport facilities.
It also bans window washers and buskers who were deemed to be a nuisance or intimidating.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said the sentiment behind the law was to help beggars and homeless people get support through the New Beginnings Court.

The Auckland court deals with homeless people by sentencing them to treatment rather than jail.

"Some of these people need their hand held and pointed in the right direction," Swney said.

He supported the bylaw in principle but it was a "balancing act" between the rights of the public and shop staff and the rights of beggars and homeless people.

Beggars had to receive three warnings before any further measures could be taken, Swney said.

The rules surrounding begging and public safety and nuisance had been "quite vague" until now, he said.

Swney said the bylaw had attracted a surprising amount of attention considering the small group it affected.

"The reality is there are very few bylaws that would attract this amount of attention." Aucklanders felt a "huge amount of compassion" towards beggars, he said.

"I spoke to some of these homeless and the thing that really really stuck me was we are all just three traumatic events from being there ourselves."

However, the rights and safety of business owners and staff also had to be taken into account.

Earlier this year Auckland City Mission chief executive Diane Robertson said the growing numbers of central-city beggars was a concern.

"It is a very successful way of getting money," she said.

"Not all beggars are homeless people, that is a misconception."

If people were not intimidating anyone they did have a right to beg, but it was important for people to donate to social service agencies instead of those on the streets, Robertson said.

Karangahape Rd street person Mike was released from prison about two years ago and had accommodation when he was first released, but had been on and off the streets for about a year.

Businesses complained about beggars but not everyone was a nuisance, Mike said.

"There are some people who are drunk and wasted and cause trouble," he said.

Mike said he had slept on the terrace area outside a pub in town where other homeless people often slept.

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The 49-year-old said they caused a mess and it was understandable why business owners would not want this to continue, he said.

"I can understand where the council's coming from."

However, he said he would be "p..... off" if the council removed him from his spot if he was minding his own business.

"I try and sit by myself a lot of the time."

Mike said he had good days and bad days but could earn up to $300 during a good weekend.

He said he tried to be polite to people and did not demand money.

Mike said his life on the street had its ups and downs.

"At the end of the day it's not the life I want."

Karangahape Rd beggar Patricia said she felt like she had been out on the streets her whole life.

The 56-year-old said the council should not have the power to ban people from begging or remove them from the streets.

The community on the streets dealt with people who were being a nuisance, she said.

"The ones who are [a nuisance] are quickly dealt with. They are told to move along," she said.

Patricia said people living on the streets and begging were "responsible adults" and could take care of themselves.

Meanwhile, Auckland Council had set up a Youth Homelessness Forum to ensure homeless youth had the necessary housing options and support services.

Auckland Council community development and safety chairwoman councillor Cathy Casey said young people were the "new homeless" in Auckland and supporting them would reduce costs to health, police and justice sectors in the future, Casey said, adding ratepayers contributed $50,000 a year to the Auckland Homeless Action Plan.

The council said the bylaw was aimed at ensuring public spaces felt safe and were clean and convenient for people to use and enjoy without being disturbed or experiencing offensive behaviour.

"We want to promote a safe Auckland and the bylaw gives us the practical means to prevent escalation of low-level activities which could lead to more serious offending," Max Wilde, the council's manager for bylaws and compliance, said.

"Our staff will take a graduated approach when applying the bylaw with voluntary compliance and education being the main focus." 

- Stuff

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