Plan to cut off city beggars

'Give Wisely' pushes charity donations

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 12:00 12/12/2012
Homeless man
MURRAY WILSON/Fairfax NZ

BEGGING: A homeless person with a bucket for donations begs outside the Square Edge, Palmerston North.

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A campaign to stop beggars cashing in on the generosity of Palmerston North people has been launched.

The Palmerston North Safety Advisory Board, which includes the city council and police, yesterday launched the "Give Wisely" campaign to stop people giving money to beggars, and persuade them to donate that money to charities instead.

Police staff visited the worst affected areas, including Broadway Ave, Princess St, The Square and Church St, and handed out Give Wisely posters to shops for display.

Senior Sergeant Brett Calkin said there were about 10 beggars who regularly frequented the streets in the central city.

All of them had been checked with social and governmental agencies in the past year and were either under the care of the welfare or mental health system, he said.

Begging is not illegal, and Palmerston North City does not have an anti-begging bylaw.

The city council said regulatory solutions had not worked in other centres, so a more "collaborative, community-oriented approach" was taken following consultation with social agencies.

Research into how beggars had been managed in other countries was also reviewed.

Mr Calkin said New Zealand had enough social organisations so "no-one should be living on the streets".

People were entitled to live outside the "social norms", but these people did not have to, he said.

Mr Calkin said he had been told one beggar made $700 on the streets in a week, while another had gone off the benefit because he earned too much money begging.

People had also reported instances of beggars being offered to have food bought for them, only to be told they were not hungry and were making too much money where they were to move, he said.

"If the beggar isn't hungry or homeless, where is the money going?

"The obvious answer is that it's going towards addictive behaviour, smoking and alcoholism."

Begging became a problem when people felt intimidated, he said.

Retailers had reported elderly customers being targeted, and last week police were alerted to a beggar watching the parking meter to see if the "OK" button was pressed after money was put in. If not, the beggar would quickly would press "cancel" to retrieve the coins.

"People in Palmerston North are really generous, but if you want to give money to someone who you think needs it, give it to charity, because you can be assured they are using the money wisely," Mr Calkin said.

He hoped the public and retailers would call police if they were having an issue with a beggar.

Police could make arrests for intimidation or disorder, he said.

Downtown manager Greg Key said he would be copying the poster to be put up at both the shopping centre's entrances.

He thought it was important the message got out.

STAYING LOW PROFILE

Only a couple of beggars were out in the hope of collecting some coin in Palmerston North yesterday, and none were very willing to talk about their situation.

One beggar, who frequents Broadway Ave with a shoebox, was happy to talk about his hardship, saying he was on a benefit but "only had $40" a week to spend after bills.

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The money he made from begging was "not much" and paid for milk, bread and eggs, he said.

However, he clammed up and told the Manawatu Standard to go away after he asked for money and was told, truthfully, that no-one was carrying a wallet.

Another beggar, sitting outside the Square Edge with a shopping trolley, was interested to know about the posters, but then muttered expletives, along with the words "no comment".

- The Manawatu Standard

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