Councillor concerned Wellington's beggars aren't accessing mental health support

A Wellington councillor says there's no data to support claims the city's beggars run an organised roster system.
FILE

A Wellington councillor says there's no data to support claims the city's beggars run an organised roster system.

Wellington beggars are not receiving the mental health support they need, a city councillor says.

Brian Dawson, the council's social development portfolio leader, has also refuted suggestions a large-scale, organised begging roster was in place in the capital.

But the region's district health boards say they have a number of support services in place and it is not accurate to assume that people who beg or are homeless are typically experiencing mental illness. 

Wellington City Councillor Brian Dawson says some Wellington beggars aren't receiving enough mental health support.
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Wellington City Councillor Brian Dawson says some Wellington beggars aren't receiving enough mental health support.

Dawson's comments come as Wellington's inner-city retailers raise concerns over what they claim is an increase in aggressive and intimidating behaviour from some beggars.

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The controversial issue was raised at a recent meeting of inner-city stakeholders.

There have been reports Wellington beggars run a roster system for the most popular places, but councillor Brian Dawson ...
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ

There have been reports Wellington beggars run a roster system for the most popular places, but councillor Brian Dawson says there's no evidence to support it.

One Lambton Quay retailer spoke of her frustration at having to deal with threatening beggars who made messes in the bathroom of her business after being trespassed from public toilets in the area.

Dawson acknowledged some beggars were aggressive, but he felt providing better access to mental health services could help alleviate the problem.

"We've seen a deliberate reduction in community care facilities with mental health responsibilities and mental health funding in the last two years, so the DHB has withdrawn its funding for a lot of those places that provide facilities," he said.

District health boards say it is not accurate to assume that people who beg or are homeless are typically experiencing ...
FAIRFAX NZ

District health boards say it is not accurate to assume that people who beg or are homeless are typically experiencing mental illness.

"I think if you talk to police they'll tell you as well. They're finding a significant increase in [incidents] which clearly have mental health issues at play, and they're not happy either because they're not trained to be psychiatric nurses, just like our guys aren't at council."

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Dawson was not convinced that begging was a safety issue, but more a matter of street management.

Arawhetu Gray, a spokeswoman for 3DHB's mental health and addiction services - a joint initiative between the Capital and Coast, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa district health boards - said the causes of homelessness and begging were complex.

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson believes a collaborative approach was best in dealing with ...
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson believes a collaborative approach was best in dealing with Wellington's begging issue.

More than $30 million was spent on non-government organisation (NGO) community health services in the greater Wellington region in 2016-17, she said. The Te Ara Pai service also provides housing and occupation support.

"We regularly review the value and use of our services to ensure they are meeting the needs of our communities."

Last year, Wellington City Council voted against the introduction of an outright begging ban in favour of working with Government and social agencies to help get beggars off the street.

The region's district health boards say funding and service levels for mental health and addiction services has remained ...
FILE

The region's district health boards say funding and service levels for mental health and addiction services has remained consistent over the past few years.

Dawson did not believe a roster system - where beggars were rotated around popular hot spots - was being used.

"There's absolutely no data to back that up, so let me be really clear about that," he said.

"Neither the police, the street outreach team nor the council have managed to find any evidence of widespread, organised begging."

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson disagreed, but was confident about where the council was heading with its street management strategy.

"We don't want to make a circus of this, because it's something that Wellington has to deal with. We want to deal with it strategically and we want to deal with it collaboratively."

 - Stuff

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