Vagrant Explosion

MOUNTING PROBLEMS: Police say beggars often spend the money given to them on synthetic cannabis and alcohol.
MOUNTING PROBLEMS: Police say beggars often spend the money given to them on synthetic cannabis and alcohol.

Small business owners are seeing a rise in shoplifting as the number of vagrants on Auckland city streets rises.

Suresh Rama has owned Lambs Pharmacy on Karangahape Rd for 20 years and has noticed a jump IN the number of people asking for spare change.

''A few years ago there was just one, but there are a lot more now,'' he says.

''They are gathering in little circles and they might squabble or have a skirmish and that leads to more stealing and  petty crime. The stealing has become more brazen.''

Mr Rama had cameras installed in the pharmacy late last year to try and curb the problem and says  area has always been a drawcard for people of low socio-economic status.

''That's the uniqueness of K' Road. Where else would they go?''

Other business owners along the strip have noticed more trouble makers being verbally abusive and intimidating pedestrians.

They believe many of the new faces aren't truly homeless but are hitting the streets to try and make some quick cash.

''They make a lot of money here and they hang out with their friends,'' one shopkeeper says.

''There are people who sit out there all day drinking hot chocolate and eating paninis. They eat better than the people who work here.''

A security guard funded by the K Road Business Association patrols the street but he can only do so much, business owners say.

Councillor Mike Lee says the much-debated Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw may mitigate the problem in the near future.

The bylaw was passed in August and comes into effect on May 26.

It states that people may not use a public place to beg in a manner that is intimidating or causing a nuisance.

It will be policed by council officers who will be able to refer individuals to other state agencies for assistance.
''It should help, but it's for nuisance, not for crime,'' Mr Lee says.

''And if there is criminal activity like theft of any nature then the police should be involved.''

Police noticed a significant increase in people begging for money in the city prior to Christmas, Inspector Vaughn Graham says.

''We have concerns that people are making donations, often cash, to homeless people. On a lot of occasions that money will not be used for the purpose it was donated,'' Mr Graham says.

''Often the money is used to purchase alcohol and synthetic cannabis.''

Police are also aware of instances of people travelling to the city to beg.

Mr Graham suggests people who want to help the homeless should make donations to either the City Mission, Lifewise or Salvation Army.

''Concerns around begging can be raised with Auckland Council and criminal matters reported to police,'' he says