$40,000 'giving' campaign scrapped

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2014
homeless
KENT BLECHYNDEN/FAIRFAX NZ
STREET APPEAL: Ricki Buddy Tua, nephew Roi Gurdy and Jason Moore (not pictured) say they all rely on money dropped in their hats by strangers to survive. 

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A $40,000 campaign to reduce begging on Wellington streets has been quietly ditched, with the council saying many people were simply confused by it.

The "alternative giving" campaign was meant to encourage people to give money to charities rather than giving it directly to beggars - but it raised just $3500 in eight months.

Wellington City Council has now shelved the programme indefinitely and is advising the public not to use the alternative giving campaign website or text donation service.

Despite the lack of tangible results, the council is defending the cost of the campaign, saying it helped raise "public awareness" about begging.

Councillor Paul Eagle, who chairs the community, sport and recreation committee, said the campaign had been stopped while the council assessed its impact - not because it hadn't worked. "If I thought it was a complete mess, I would tell you, but I don't."

The council would be briefed on its impact in the next few months, but Eagle believed it had helped to reduce begging. "I do think it is money well spent."

The council spent $39,800 on the campaign, which was originally aimed at diverting donations away from beggars and into the coffers of the often cash-strapped charities supporting them.

This included printing hundreds of posters, advertisements on the back of buses, and hiring students to hold up signs at Wellington railway station. It came after growing complaints to the council about street begging.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the campaign ran into "marketing and technology" difficulties, with people struggling to grasp how to donate.

Similar successful campaigns overseas had included charity boxes in which people could deposit loose change, but plans for similar boxes here never took off. The campaign might be resurrected one day, but for now the council was taking a "rain check", he said.

While the campaign had the backing of Wellington's homeless support service, it was less popular with those actually surviving on donations.

Jason Moore said he had been begging on the streets for about six months and felt people were giving less now than when he had started - something he blamed on the campaign.

"They are trying to shut us down with all that."

Moore was begging yesterday with Ricki Buddy Tua and Roi Gurdy, and the trio said they often pooled their earnings. Buddy Tua said he earned anywhere from $30 to $180 a day begging, which mostly went on food and sometimes cannabis and cigarettes.

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Wellington Night Shelter was one of the charities involved in the campaign. Manager Mike Leon said, from a purely financial point of view, it had clearly not worked.

"I also understand there was some public resistance," he said. "Certainly feedback from our clients was pretty negative."

However, it had helped lay the groundwork for a new council-led homeless outreach programme, which the night shelter and other charities were involved in and focused on offering personal support to people on the streets.

"I feel that is much more positive."

- The Dominion Post

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