Wellington's beggars using rosters and 'comical gestures' to earn more money
Wellington's beggars are working to a roster system, switching places regularly at begging "hot spots" and employing comical tactics to maximise their earning power, business owners say.
A study by the capital's retailers suggests begging is becoming more strategic in the city, and "opportunistic beggars" could be pushing out those actually in need.
At a meeting of CBD retail and hospitality sector stakeholders on Thursday, First Retail Group client services manager Lorraine Nicholson said certain areas in the city had become hot spots for begging.
She was reluctant to name these places, but they are understood to include Cable Car lane, off Lambton Quay, and outside the New World supermarket on Willis St.
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"We know there is a roster for those guys to sit in. I've been there to witness someone being told they've had their time and if they did not move on, they knew what would happen to them."
First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said he had seen a female beggar on Willis St give her money to a man every time a donation was tossed into her hat, to ensure the hat always looked empty.
"We have seen a particular changes in behaviour since Christmas and this is concerning for businesses. A number have met with the council recently and are keen to see it managed better."
The business sector was aware that some people were in need, and wanted to help. But others were taking advantage of the situation, Wilkinson said.
His research showed that some international begging trends, such as beggars using animals to attract attention, was also happening in Wellington.
"We often see a large increase of people begging and using different tactics to get money, such as through a comical gesture or sign."
The man who regularly appears along the Golden Mile dressed as gorilla was an example, Wilkinson said.
"He is quite tactical and strategic, and these are not things we want to see in our city."
The so-called gorilla man told Stuff he was not a beggar and never asked for money, and everyone was an opportunist.
His dancing added value to the city's ecosystem and tourist environment, he said.
When asked whether he was on a begging roster, he said beggars were free people on the land and did not have a "council structure mind".
"Please understand, we wish there were more spots for spare change. This is a small ecosystem."
Last year, Wellington City Council voted against an outright ban on begging in favour of working with the Government and social agencies to get beggars off the street.
Hurricane Jeans owner David Byrne said only one out of ten beggars in Wellington were "genuine and hard up", while the others were strategic.
"If you work in a high-rise you are more tolerant of begging but I know shop staff have no tolerance anymore. They face this everyday."
City council community services manager Jenny Rains said begging was an incredibly complicated issue to deal with.
The council was currently reviewing its public spaces bylaw to see how it might better manage the city's footpaths.
Currently, structures such as tents and boxes placed on the street by beggars can be removed, but not people.