Editorial: Wise approach to a poor situation
It's always awkward being approached on the street by someone begging for money. This uncomfortable feeling stems from the practice not being something we are generally accustomed to on the streets of Palmerston North. But, of late, it has become more common, with about 10 beggars trawling the central city for donations.
In an effort to deter such activity, the Palmerston North Safety Advisory Board, which includes police and council representatives, has launched a Give Wisely campaign aimed at stopping people from giving money to beggars.
People have instead been asked to donate to one of the many city charities that help those in need, whether it be the Salvation Army, Red Cross or Methodist Social Services.
Some may think such a scheme is a tad small-minded or driven by a disbelief that extreme poverty could exist within our community.
Palmerston North, like any other centre, must face up to the realisation that poverty is an unavoidable issue for New Zealanders, and we should put in place measures to deal with it.
But the motive behind the Give Wisely campaign is based on the fact that many of the beggars are not starving or homeless. Most of them are receiving Government assistance, in the welfare or mental health system, and have homes to go to at night.
The board says if their begging dividends are not going towards food, then they must be feeding gambling, alcohol and drug addictions.
No one is saying these beggars live opulent lifestyles - far from it - but they are not in the desperate situation their hastily-drawn signs and glum expressions would have you believe.
It was shocking to hear some have been making up to $700 a week. Others have turned down offers of work, as they claimed to be making too much on the streets, while one person cancelled their benefit because of the begging cash cow.
This is disturbing behaviour considering all the people out there who are struggling to provide for their families on a base level, let alone getting them anything extra for Christmas.
You'd have to be a cold-hearted soul to not feel pity for someone so desperate they are forced to appeal for hand-outs. But these individuals are taking money from people who genuinely need and deserve our charity.
Begging is not illegal in the city but that doesn't mean their actions are not wrong. The campaign is not a call to treat these people with rudeness or hostility but, if accosted for money, a polite refusal should not leave you feeling wracked with guilt.