More homeless seek shelter

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 08:50 09/02/2014

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Numbers of homeless in Canterbury have risen, with more seeking shelter at the city mission's night shelter. 

Christchurch City Missioner Michael Gorman said there were definitely more people in need, and the mission's night shelter saw an increasingly diverse group of people looking for shelter.

"Rent's gone up horrifically here, just like in Auckland, and housing is difficult to find for our sort of people."

Meanwhile, growing numbers of beggars are filling the streets in Wellington and Auckland, where some claim to be making as much as $200 a day.

Police have noticed a significant recent increase in people begging in downtown Auckland and are warning against giving them money, saying much of it goes towards drugs and alcohol.

Wellington social service agencies also say there has been an increase in begging - although those in the capital claim their income from begging is "meagre".

Gorman said he had not noticed any increase in begging in Christchurch, and had heard no reports indicating there had been a rise. "Begging was never a huge problem here. There is homelessness, but out in the street begging has not been part of our culture much."

Queen Street beggars spoken to by the Sunday Star Times agreed their numbers in the central city had been growing in recent months.

Beggar Tuari Ropihana, 18, had been in West Auckland until three months ago but moved to Queen Street because he said, "the police came down hard on us but not as much here".

Ropihana said he spent the $50 he made each day on food, clothes, socks and new undies, but others he knew spent the money on drugs. "They are saying that everybody that begs or hustles spends money on drugs . . . a lot do but not everybody."

Ropihana said beggars in the central city came from all parts of the Auckland region, some slept rough in the city and others commuted daily to beg for money. He said he had been on the streets for more than five years and he was not on a benefit because he had no identification. "I don't want to do this for the rest of my life," he said.

Another Queen St beggar who didn't want to be identified agreed there had been a lot of new beggars moving to the central city. "People are finding it hard to find jobs. The ones that are out there, the younger ones, they are only out for the drugs."

He said he regularly made around $200 a day and spent that money on cigarettes, bus fares for meetings, food and hot drinks. "There are a lot of kind people, a lot of generous people. But I really hate doing this. Once I get me a house I can find out what's happening in the workforce."

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Auckland city mission chief executive Diane Robertson said the growing numbers of central city beggars was a concern.

"It is a very successful way of getting money. Not all beggars are homeless people, that is a misconception."

She said there was no need for anyone to be begging in New Zealand. "There are very few people who have no access to any income whatsoever."

If people were not intimidating anyone they did have a right to beg, but it was important for people to donate to social service agencies instead of those on the streets, Robertson said.

Auckland police spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty said there had also been more calls to police for aggressive begging. There were no statistics of arrests specifically for beggars.

"Whilst begging is not an offence some of the associated behaviours are clearly police matters. We have concerns that people are making donations, often cash, to homeless people. On a lot of occasions that money will not be used for the purpose it was donated but is used to purchase alcohol and synthetic cannabis."

Stephanie McIntyre, director of DCM which works with homeless people in Wellington, said the number of people begging on Wellington streets has increased noticeably from a few years ago. Social agencies in Wellington worked together to approach people who were street begging, to try to build a rapport with them.

There was no easy explanation for the apparent rise in the number of people asking for money on the streets, she said.

Some people were facing significant hardship simply because they did not have enough money, McIntyre said. Some were on benefits, but had high housing costs, and maybe some high fixed deductions such as money owed to Work and Income.

"People can be left with an alarmingly small amount of money to live on."

McIntyre disputed suggestions beggars wanted the money to buy drugs.

"It's simply not true to say they are just people using [drugs] - they are a diverse group of people begging for a diverse group of reasons."

As far as she was aware the amount of money people raised from begging in Wellington was "meagre". It was "nothing like" the $200 a day being reported in Auckland.

Last year Auckland Council passed a public safety and nuisance bylaw which targets beggars making demands "in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance". The bylaw comes into effect in May.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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