Hard line needed on city begging

MICHAEL CUMMINGS EDITOR
Last updated 09:00 14/09/2013

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OPINION: A spate of unsavoury incidents involving vagrants in central Palmerston North has talk of a bylaw banning begging back on the agenda, and it is clear that firmer action to combat the escalating problem is now required.

But whether a bylaw is the most effective tool remains to be seen. The incidents that have given rise to most concern in recent weeks have been characterised by beggars attempting to enter people's vehicles, which is an escalation from nuisance behaviour to outright intimidation.

As mayor Jono Naylor quite rightly points out in today's Manawatu Standard, that kind of behaviour is a criminal matter best dealt with by police, not by the city council.

However, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that the far more aggressive and confrontational approach some beggars are now taking would not have developed had they been moved along much sooner.

The more softly-softly public education approach the city council has taken in collaboration with police and other agencies appears not to have worked, and it's time for a rethink.

If a blunter instrument is indeed adopted to tackle the problem, it shouldn't be seen as a punitive action. The relatively small number of individuals who have resorted to begging are incredibly vulnerable people in need of support. Many suffer from mental health issues or alcohol and drug addictions, and have been left behind by society.

While it's a given that their behaviour is not good for the general public, it is sometimes forgotten that it is also not good for the beggars themselves. Getting them away from an unhealthy lifestyle that only further marginalises them from the community, and engaged with the supports they need to lead positive lives, must be the central goal.

The approach authorities have taken so far, while well-intentioned and compassionate, has not worked. The time has come to employ a more direct mechanism to get beggars off the streets of Palmerston North, for the sake of everyone, especially the beggars. It's fantastic to read in today's Standard that the people of Manawatu won't be without a public Guy Fawkes display this year, after the Kairanga Lions announced it had organised a Palmerston North event following the collapse of the annual show at Manfeild.

The Manfeild display was hugely popular, with thousands of people from all over the region travelling to see it each year, so hopefully that excitement can be replicated in Palmerston North on November 5. Congratulations to all those involved, particularly the corporate sponsors who have made it possible.

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- Manawatu Standard

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