Beggars scathing of council crackdown

Last updated 23:54 09/07/2013
Sarah Parsons
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ

AGENT FOR CHANGE: Student Sarah Parsons is raising awareness of the alternative-giving campaign at the railway station.

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A campaign to cut down on begging in Wellington is in full swing, but not everyone supports the move.

Two university students joined beggars and buskers at Wellington railway station yesterday, holding cardboard signs encouraging people to give to charity rather than a person on the street.

They are part of the campaign for "alternative giving" that kicked off this month in response to what Wellington City Council calls growing public concern about begging.

It comes after some central city retailers raised concerns about aggressive "opportunist" begging by groups of young people.

But beggars who have spoken to The Dominion Post - none of whom were particularly young or aggressive - did not support the initiative.

Yesterday, Baz Thompson sat on The Terrace holding a cardboard sign declaring he was homeless and had not eaten for two days.

Mr Thompson said he had been in Wellington for only a day, hitching a ride north after he was discharged from prison in Milton, Otago, surviving on scraps from rubbish bins and donations along the way.

He was keen to emphasise he was not asking for anything, but said any money he received in a day could range from small change up to about $70.

He relied on this money to eat, he said, and did not support people giving to charity instead. "I'm not against charities, but this way is more direct."

He was vague about his contact with homeless support agencies, claiming he "wanted to stay away from certain people", but was scathing of the council crackdown.

"It's just because we are an eyesore for the council. It looks like they are not doing enough for us, which they're not."

Stephanie Cook, the council's social portfolio leader, said some beggars were understandably opposed to the campaign. "It's perfectly reasonable the people don't want people to stop giving them money."

However, many organisations that supported homeless people in Wellington badly needed cash and some beggars were not necessarily homeless or in need, she said.

As part of the campaign, central Wellington has already been plastered with posters encouraging people not to give to beggars, and giving links to an online portal allowing them to give to charity.

Charity boxes, to be placed at begging hot spots around the city, are planned for later in the year.

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- The Dominion Post

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