Rail commuters complain of 'aggressive beggars'

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013

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Teenage beggars who surround and follow commuters at Wellington Railway Station are being investigated by the city council.

This follows complaints about a group of about 10 young people hounding commuters, all begging for money simultaneously.

They appeared to be travelling regularly from Porirua to ask for money in the subway between the station and the bus terminal.

KiwiRail informed the Wellington City Council about the group last week, after complaints from several members of the public to station security.

"We understand there have been some issues of aggressive begging in the subway," council community resilience adviser Steve Flude said.

Further details were needed before action could be taken, and the first step would be determining who the teenagers were and why they were begging.

While begging was not illegal, if the group was harassing people, it could be trespassed from the subway, he said. "But that would be a last resort."

Police said they were aware of the group, and were seeking further details.

The complaints come as Wellington City Council prepares an "alternative giving" campaign next month in response to growing public concern about begging.

The campaign will kick off with posters and a mobile-phone app directing people to donate to charities that support the homeless rather than giving directly to beggars.

Charity boxes placed at popular begging spots are also planned for later in the year and would give people an immediate physical alternative to putting a dollar in a beggar's hat.

Support for the proposal online, particularly the charity boxes, has been split, although many expressed concerned about the rise in begging.

Several Cuba Mall retailers claim some new, younger beggars appear to be "opportunists" looking to make some extra cash rather than people in genuine need.

However, homeless agencies have played down the notion of opportunism and say the majority of Wellington's beggars do need help and many were homeless.

Corbin Taylor was begging on Manners St on Monday with his friend, Jason Noore, both holding signs that requested food or money.

Taylor said he had been homeless in Rotorua for about three years and moved to Wellington a few days ago with Noore.

Some people who begged were not homeless but needed extra money to feed their drug or alcohol addictions, he said. "I find that a bit annoying because I need money to get food and survive."

Noore said he was just passing through and was trying to collect enough money to travel to Christchurch, where he had accommodation waiting.

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He was opposed to directing money away from beggars and towards charities. "I don't need them. I've already got a place signed up, I just need to get together the travel money."

The number of people known to be living rough in Wellington has risen over the past 18 months, although it fell slightly in the first quarter of this year.

Figures from the Downtown Community Ministry, which supports homeless people, show the agency had contact with 44 people living on the streets or in cars in the first quarter of 2013.

In a recent report to the city council, the ministry said a lack of affordable housing was the biggest barrier to getting people off the street.

- The Dominion Post

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