City council acts on rise in 'opportunist' begging

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 01:08 18/06/2013
homeless
Fairfax NZ

SIGN OF THE TIMES: A homeless man begging in Lambton Quay. The ‘alternative giving’ campaign is set to begin on July 1.

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The hounding of pedestrians by beggars for spare change has led to Wellington City Council deciding to install charity boxes around the city.

The boxes will be rolled out at begging hot spots later this year as part of the city council's bid to stamp out a rise in "opportunist" begging.

Central city retailers who spoke to The Dominion Post reported an increase in begging overall, often among people who did not appear homeless or in obvious desperate need.

Some retailers claimed groups of younger beggars were using aggressive tactics, including singling out older women as soft targets and waving signs in people's faces.

Councillor Stephanie Cook, the council's social portfolio leader, said begging was on the rise, as were public complaints.

The "alternative giving" campaign kicks off on July 1, with posters in prominent begging spots in Cuba St, Courtenay Place and Willis St encouraging people to give to charities that support the homeless instead.

The posters will feature QR codes linking back to a mobile phone app that can be used to quickly make donations to six Wellington charities.

Later in the year, donation drop boxes will join the posters on the streets, giving people an immediate physical alternative to handing out change.

"The idea is instead of putting two dollars in their hand, you put it in the box."

The council also briefly considered using old retrofitted parking meters as donation drop boxes but ditched the idea amid concerns it would confuse motorists.

Figures from the Downtown Community Ministry show that on any given fine weather day, 10 to 20 people are begging in Wellington. Of these, about half are homeless, many are feeding an addiction and a few are simply opportunists.

Jacki Condra, who owns the fashion shop Rex Royale in Cuba Mall, said some of the newer and younger beggars in the mall were well dressed, smoked tailored cigarettes and drank expensive energy drinks.

"There is definitely some younger guys out there that have caught on to it and are taking the piss."

Wellington Night Shelter is one of the six charities that could benefit from the scheme.

Manager Mike Leon said while there was an element of opportunism, most beggars were genuinely needy.

"That can make it hard for the public to determine whether they should give."

Beggars on the streets of Wellington spoken to yesterday all claimed to be homeless and said they used their proceeds for food or travel.

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- The Dominion Post

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