That was the main message from today’s meeting of Wellington City Council’s Community, Sport and Recreation Committee, which considered a report on begging and various suggestions on how to deal with the problem.
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says she is glad that the committee strongly voted – by 12 votes to 2 - against a ban on begging.
“A ban on begging will not work. Begging is not a criminal activity and a ban, if enforced, could push desperate people into criminal activity.”
Mayor Wade-Brown says she and Committee Chair Councillor Paul Eagle will seek an initial meeting with members of the Cabinet who have direct responsibility for the agencies that deal with the issues behind begging – issues like unemployment, mental health and prisoner rehabilitation
“Central government also needs to step up and help deal with begging – it is a national issue,” says Mayor Wade-Brown.
Cr Eagle says councils have so far had to bear the brunt of public concern over begging. “We need organised help from government agencies because councils do not have the resources to deal with such a complex problem.”
Mayor Wade-Brown says she will also raise the issue of begging at the next meeting of the country’s city mayors in May.
Cr Eagle says submissions by police and retailers to the committee meeting today added “disturbing insight” into the level of the begging problem – councillors were told about beggars being ‘taxed’ by criminals in the CBD, and about harassment of shoppers by beggars in Newtown.
“We’ve got a visible problem out there – the Council is working to coordinate multi-agency responses to begging – but the Government has a moral obligation to come to the party with a serious, nationally-focused, response.”