Palmerston North plan: Sweep up homeless before cup

GIMME SHELTER: Tom Cliffe, who begs in the centre of Palmerston North, says beggars just do what they must to survive.
GIMME SHELTER: Tom Cliffe, who begs in the centre of Palmerston North, says beggars just do what they must to survive.

Palmerston North is moving to rid the city of beggars before the Rugby World Cup.

Its police are supporting calls from angry business owners to rid the city centre of beggars – including a potential bylaw that could empower police to prosecute any beggars who do not leave the CBD.

But a local beggar says the plan could force beggars to shift to Whanganui or Wellington, or switch to crime.

The city council will discuss the best way to move beggars from outside shops on Broadway Ave and The Square at a committee meeting on Monday. Options include introducing a bylaw allowing police to "move people on" if found begging and prosecute them if they do not comply. Current rules only allow them to take action against beggars who demand money with menace.

Similar plans are not on the cards in other New Zealand centres, though some do acknowledge they will "move along" beggars who become a problem during the World Cup.

Auckland Council has given city agencies an extra $20,000 funding to be used for "the security and support of the homeless" during the cup.

Palmerston North business owners have requested their council step in to make beggars go away. Bruce Graves, from the Broadway Ave Retailers Group, said about nine people now begged along the street, which was killing off business.

"We've got people being abused, shouted at and threatened, so they just don't come into Broadway any more."

About four of them were "very pushy", he said. "The pushy ones are the worst ... There's the guy who asks you for money and when you say you haven't got any, he calls you a liar."

A report by community development officer Jimmy Ballantyne said the council had fielded calls from angry business owners who were demanding that begging be eliminated in the CBD.

"Aggressive attitudes aside, the business owners feel that the presence of this many beggars is a very poor look for Palmerston North, especially with the Rugby World Cup on the horizon."

Palmerston North police recommend a bylaw either prohibiting aggressive begging or prohibiting begging in certain areas, alongside a greater effort by them to refer beggars to social services and substance abuse centres.

Tom Cliffe, who has been begging in The Square for the past five weeks to get food and rent money, said banning beggars could hurt the city.

"If you do, then people will start doing bad things to get money," he said. "People know it's wrong but they will do what they have to do to survive. That's the blunt nature of it."

Mr Cliffe said he knew a beggar who had come to Palmerston North because police had stopped him begging in Auckland, and the same thing would happen to places like Wellington and Whanganui if they were banned.

According to the Palmerston North City Council report, the Auckland street trading bylaw effectively bans begging by defining it as "street trading", which can be prevented by prosecution.

An Auckland Council spokesman said the city would not actively move beggars off the streets. And Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the city did not plan to remove beggars during the World Cup.

Worldwide, many cities remove beggars before big sporting events.

CNN reported hawkers and beggars would be driven out of Dhaka, Bangladesh during the Cricket World Cup in February and there were reports of Delhi rounding up and removing up to 60,000 beggars during last year's Commonwealth Games.

During the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese Government removed beggars from the city, and many of the migrant workers who rebuilt much of the city for the Games were sent back to their villages.

The Dominion Post