Rugby players suggested as way of chasing beggars away

Last updated 12:00 03/12/2013

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Rugby players have been suggested as a better deterrent than a bylaw in discouraging begging in Palmerston North.

Mayor Jono Naylor said rather than spend about $10,000 making a bylaw that would achieve "zip", he would rather give the money to the Kia Toa Rugby Club to get players out on Broadway Ave to discourage beggars.

"If we could get them to shadow these people around the streets, we would have it solved by Christmas."

He told the city council's community development committee yesterday begging was a problem, involving just a few individuals.

"And I don't think they would bother if someone followed them around and intervened every time they asked someone for money."

Kia Toa club captain Dave Adamson said he would rather not comment on the idea.

The committee voted nine votes to five against developing a bylaw after receiving a deputation from the Passionate About Broadway group which presented a petition signed by nearly 1600 people.

Group representative Elizabeth Smith said the council had a responsibility to make a bylaw to keep people safe.

The problem of beggars targeting elderly people, being aggressive and intimidating, had reached a crisis, she said.

People were being approached before they got out of their cars.

They feared retaliation if they did not give money. "It's not acceptable to the majority of people, and someone is going to get seriously hurt."

But council policy analyst Peter Ridge stuck with his advice that a bylaw would not help.

The council did not have the power to impose instant fines, prosecution would be expensive, the police already had powers to act on reports of violence or intimidation, and a bylaw could just shift the problem to other areas.

Cr Lew Findlay said begging was not just a local problem, but it had become worse in Broadway since the Paradise legal highs shop had opened, fuelling aggression. "It's a social problem because the Government has allowed these drugs to be sold."

The root causes needed to be tackled, including a system that discharged mental health patients into the community without support, he said.

Cr Billy Meehan said a bylaw would have no teeth against groups effectively working as a gang.

"We need to have security [patrols] on the street.

"They can intimidate them right back. But it's going to cost money." Cr Susan Baty proposed a bylaw, as she said other approaches were not working.

"We have the Give Wisely campaign, we work with other organisations, but we need another tool in our tool box."

She said the council did not need more surveys or studies or reports and she was concerned about expecting parking wardens, students or council staff to engage with beggars on drugs.

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"I would not approach many of them, and I'm not afraid of most people. But I just don't understand how half a dozen people are holding the city to ransom."

Cr Annette Nixon said she had great sympathy for retailers and the shoppers scared off by beggars.

"But they are just a few people.

"We need to claim ownership of the streets and spaces, and use Broadway for other things.

"You don't make social changes through bylaws."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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