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Scheme to tackle Wellington beggars criticised as 'unfair'

Published: 8:28AM Tuesday June 18, 2013 Source: ONE News/Fairfax

  • A homeless man begging in Lambton Quay. The ‘alternative giving’ campaign is set to begin on July 1. (Source: Fairfax)
    A homeless man begging in Lambton Quay. The ‘alternative giving’ campaign is set to begin on July 1. - Source: Fairfax

A scheme aiming to reduce the number of beggars on Wellington streets is being criticised as unfair.
 
Wellington City Council hopes charity boxes collecting funds for the homeless will provide a disincentive to people asking for money.

The city has seen an increase in begging overall, with some retailers reporting beggars "hounding" pedestrians.

Some retailers claim groups of younger beggars were using aggressive tactics, including singling out older women as soft targets and waving signs in people's faces.

Councillor Stephanie Cook, the council's social portfolio leader, said begging was on the rise, as were public complaints.

However, one civil liberties lawyer said the scheme is not only unfair, but could also be a breach of the bill of rights.

"If you're poor and down on your luck it's your right under the bill of rights to say 'hey can I have some help," lawyer Michael Bott told ONE News.

Mr Bott says it is unfair the scheme does not target other groups soliciting funds, like charities.

"It seems to be some sort of prejudice on the basis of residential status," he said.

The council says it is not forcing people to stop begging or others donating to them and it will conduct a review six months after the charity boxes and phone apps are installed to see if they are working.

Councillor Cook said the scheme will see the "opportunists" gradually stop.

"Those who are currently perhaps 'opportunist' beggars if you like, will gradually disappear because they're not getting a result," she said.

However one homeless man "John", who has been living rough for 20 years, said the scheme will not change his ways.

"That is my only income that I get, because I don't have a bank account. I don't have a residential address," he told ONE News.

'Alternative giving'

The "alternative giving" campaign kicks off on July 1, with posters in prominent begging spots in Cuba St, Courtenay Place and Willis St encouraging people to give to charities that support the homeless instead.

The posters will feature QR codes linking back to a mobile phone app that can be used to quickly make donations to six Wellington charities.

Later in the year, donation drop boxes will join the posters on the streets, giving people an immediate physical alternative to handing out change.

"The idea is instead of putting two dollars in their hand, you put it in the box."

The council also briefly considered using old retrofitted parking metres as donation drop boxes but ditched the idea amid concerns it would confuse motorists.

'Opportunists'

Figures from the Downtown Community Ministry show that on any given fine weather day, 10 to 20 people are begging in Wellington. Of these, about half are homeless, many are feeding an addiction and a few are simply opportunists.

Jacki Condra, who owns the fashion shop Rex Royale in Cuba Mall, said some of the newer and younger beggars in the mall were well dressed, smoked tailored cigarettes and drank expensive energy drinks.

"There is definitely some younger guys out there that have caught on to it and are taking the piss," she said.

Wellington Night Shelter is one of the six charities that could benefit from the scheme.

Manager Mike Leon said while there was an element of opportunism, most beggars were genuinely needy.

"That can make it hard for the public to determine whether they should give," he said.

Beggars on the streets of Wellington spoken to yesterday all claimed to be homeless and said they used their proceeds for food or travel.

Wellington is the first major centre to introduce a scheme like this, although Auckland has a goal to eradicate rough sleeping by 2022.

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