Beggars out in force as Auckland summer cruise ship season arrives
Auckland is about to hit peak begging season when good weather, long evenings and cruise ship visitors cause a spike in the numbers of people putting their hand out.
Sad figures crouched in doorways with blankets and cardboard signs are a common sight in the CBD, and new figures from Auckland Council confirm begging is on the rise.
The begging bylaw infringement numbers also show a sharp increase during December and January, when dozens of cruise ships dock at the city's wharves.
"From what I've heard anecdotally that's why beggars are there," Auckland City Missioner Dame Diane Robertson said.
"It's summer, there's more people around, there's probably cruise ships, all of those things.
"People might think it's easier to get money."
The council's figures show that between May and October an average of 84 individual beggars breached the bylaws 493 times each month.
Last January that spiked to over 900 infringements.
Two years ago the number was under 400 a month.
The city's 2013 Public Safety and Nuisance bylaw makes it an offence to beg in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance.
The council acknowledges that the infringement numbers go up with regular patrols of the CBD - particularly in the peak January season - but manager of bylaws and compliance Max Wilde said begging was already on the rise before the bylaw came in.
In addition there were "passive" beggars who weren't breaching the bylaw and therefore not showing up in the numbers.
"It's a very complex issue, I couldn't give you one simple reason as to why the overall trend is increasing," Wilde said.
Drug and alcohol addiction and homelessness were factors, but "not all homeless are beggars and not all beggars are homeless, it's a multitude of reasons as to why people beg".
Officials had noticed beggars being less aggressive as a result of the enforcement, he said.
However prosecution was a last resort, with most offenders given warnings and referred to agencies for help..
The council figures were the first concrete statistics available on begging in Auckland, and they were higher than she'd thought, Robertson said.
"I know that it's been increasing but I haven't been aware of what the numbers are and it probably surprises me a little."
However, it was hard to draw conclusions when the data did not include all beggars, and without a few years' worth of comparisons, she said.
She also questioned what constituted a "nuisance".
"If someone's sitting in the door of Smith & Caughey and I want to get in, that can be seen as breaching," she said.
"The whole thing of begging is a relatively new thing in our society, and it's indicative of people really, really struggling."
Business association Heart of the City helps fund the patrols, and chief executive Viv Beck said it had led to an improvement in anti-social behaviour.
However begging required a toolbox of solutions.
"There's a combination of things that need to be in place and we're pretty active in those conversations, because while we appreciate there are people in need, equally we want to ensure that people can enjoy the city streets," she said.
Cruise New Zealand chairman Kevin O'Sullivan said cruise operators had not raised begging as a problem, but "I guess if you want to beg then you would tend to aim at somebody you thought might have a few extra dollars on them".