Wellington considers making it illegal to give money to beggars

A beggar in Willis St, central Wellington.
FAIRFAX NZ

A beggar in Willis St, central Wellington.

Anyone giving money to beggars in Wellington could be fined if the city council adopts some of the more radical solutions that have been proposed to solve the city's begging problem.

Wellington City Council will consider next week whether to outlaw begging by either banning the act itself or fining those who open up their wallets.

They are two of the ideas mentioned in a $50,000 report on the state of begging in Wellington, which proposes dozens of solutions to the growing problem.

The independent report also reveals that beggars from around the country are converging on Wellington because it is seen as a city with generous residents who support those less fortunate.

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Other proposed solutions include requiring beggars to have permits that dictate when and where they can beg, giving vouchers instead of money, and launching a "kindness can kill" campaign that links begging to drug use and deters the public from giving.

A new report has proposed dozens of solutions to Wellington's begging problem, including an outright ban.
DAVID WALKER/ FAIRFAX NZ

A new report has proposed dozens of solutions to Wellington's begging problem, including an outright ban.

But the report says there is scant evidence to suggest these ideas have worked when tried in cities elsewhere.

It recommends Wellington "tolerate begging as part of the cityscape" instead and attack the problem by boosting social services and public engagement.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, said a ban would not address the roots causes of begging, such as people leaving prison or mental health services with little support.

She was confident her councillors would feel the same way when the time came to debate the issue, she said.

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But councillor Nicola Young, who will challenge Wade-Brown for the mayoralty this year, said she would be pushing for a begging ban, alongside increased support for social agencies.

"There's got to be a carrot and a stick," she said. "It's no solution to let these people rot on our streets."

Councillor Paul Eagle, chairman of the committee responsible for the city's social services, said a ban would be irresponsible, as it would simply push beggars into crime.

Deputy Mayor Justin Lester said intimidating behaviour by beggars was already illegal under national laws, so there was no need for a blanket ban.

But Wellington property tycoon Sir Bob Jones said a ban was the obvious solution, and it was "bloody shocking" that the council needed to "waste" money on a report to tell them that.

"They'll stop begging if they think they're going to be arrested. It's quite simple really," he said.

Wellington Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said the objective had to be to get beggars off the street, but banning them was heavy handed, and would move the problem elsewhere.

The council needed to look at other options, such as ensuring there was enough support for those begging, and encouraging them to use it. 

WELLINGTON'S BEGGING PROBLEM

The report found that begging in Wellington was a "win-win" because those giving saw it as a low-effort form of charity that made them feel good, while beggars were getting what they needed.

The capital's beggars were on the streets for a range of reasons. Some were short of disposable income after paying bills, while others were there to feed their drug and alcohol addictions.

"Begging is social for some, and for others it is seen as a purposeful job, with their begging site being compared to an office."

Methods included sitting with a sign, asking outright for money, selling art or other goods and impromptu busking.

Many beggars had a dollar figure in mind before starting their day, and would stop when they hit that number.

Some also used "strategies" to avoid overworking a particular spot or irritating shop owners, and would allow other beggars to have their spots once their quota was reached, the report said.

Most beggars made about $60 to $80 a week, with some taking home about $20 to $40 a day. In Wellington, beggars occasionally got "big drops" of $50 or $100 notes, but this was rare.

Friday and Saturday nights were the best times to beg in Wellington, as people who had been out drinking in Courtenay Place and Cuba St tended to give more money.

THE RECOMMENDED SOLUTIONS

* The city's street outreach team will engage with beggars with increased focus on connecting them to social services.

* The council will develop a strategy for dealing with complaints about beggars.

* Beggars will be educated on acceptable uses of footpaths. Items will be removed if necessary.

* A "multi-agency forum" will be established to tackle the social and criminal issues that lead to begging.

OTHER IDEAS WELLINGTON COULD TRY

* Create a bylaw that makes begging and/or giving money to beggars illegal.

* Issue permits that regulate when and where people can beg.

* Allow the public to buy vouchers for beggars that offer free services and products, such as a night's accommodation, non-alcoholic drinks or basic groceries.

* The council could look offering beggars jobs or volunteer opportunities.

* An educational campaign that explains link between begging and drug use.

THEY SAY: WELLINGTON'S BEGGARS

"A lot of people like myself and other people have all got other addictions to either alcohol or drugs and to be straight up, that's where the money goes … it covers the drug costs."

"You know, you never go hungry down here … I reckon [the] Wellington community has got the softest heart."

"At the end of the day, it's not against the law to ask for help. If the council wants to put in a bylaw against us, well then they are going against our human rights."

THEY SAY: WELLINGTON'S RETAILERS

"I really don't mind beggars there, but not when they're are being aggressive and confrontational."

"It's a bad look for Wellington."

"Is there a crossover between begging and busking? Because I see some incredibly bad singers and stuff like that."

THEY SAY: WELLINGTON'S RESIDENTS

"They wouldn't beg if it wasn't working."

"There are so many beggars in Wellington but I only saw one beggar when I went to Nairobi."

"I give them money, but that's not a solution, is it."

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