Beggars miss out in costly campaign

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 14:45 18/08/2013
beggar
KENT BLECHYNDEN/The Dominion Post

A homeless woman begging on Lambton Quay.

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A $40,000 campaign to convince Wellingtonians to give to charities, instead of beggars, has so far raised about $1000.

The Alternative Giving campaign cost Wellington City Council $39,800, but so far only 40 people have donated. For the six homeless support charities involved, the donations work out to less than $200 each.

But the campaign may have had more success in convincing people to stop giving directly to beggars, with some of them reporting a drop in their daily take.

The campaign has been running since July 1 and is meant to draw money away from the beggars on the street and bring it to support agencies.

It was launched in response to the rising number of beggars in the capital, with complaints that some were employing increasingly aggressive tactics.

Hundreds of posters have been plastered throughout the city urging people to help stop begging, and referring them to a website and smartphone app through which they can donate to the charities.

Council figures show the campaign had an initial budget of $33,951 but, so far, has already cost $39,800.

Further costs are expected when a text service and donation boxes are introduced later in the year.

The biggest expense so far has been $25,000 spent on advertisements in bus shelters and on the backs of buses. Another $1500 was spent hiring two students to hold cardboard promotion signs at the Wellington Railway Station for four hours a day for a week.

Stephanie Cook, the council's social portfolio leader, played down the campaign's cost and sparse donations. "It was never about making lots of money - it was about reducing the money on the street," she said.

Compared with other similar campaigns the cost was "minor", and benefits would be seen in changing attitudes as much as extra funds, she said.

The smartphone app had been trickier to use than expected, which may have hit donations. The $1000 also did not measure donations made directly to charities, although none of the three charities spoken to have reported a jump in donations.

Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) is one of the participating charities, and manager Stephanie McIntyre said most beggars were genuinely in need. However, no matter how needy, a few dollars from a stranger was not the answer.

"When people put money in that hat, it reaffirms begging as an constructive activity. It reinforces the cycle."

The campaign was more about changing the public's attitudes than raising funds, she said. "I support it because I'm concerned about the complex problem of begging."

Wellington Night Shelter manager Mike Leon would not comment on the donations but said many of the shelter's regulars who begged were now reporting a drop in earnings.

Hayley, who declined to give her last name, was begging for food and money in Willis St. She said she had been begging since her benefit was cut six months ago, was living with friends, and occasionally sleeping rough.

She was unaware of the council's campaign but said her earnings had dropped from about $50 a day to $30 a day in the past two months. "I guess people are just starting not to care in Wellington."

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