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John MacDonald: Should begging be banned?

Publish Date
Mon, 15 Apr 2024, 12:33pm
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

John MacDonald: Should begging be banned?

Publish Date
Mon, 15 Apr 2024, 12:33pm

It seems to me that the rough sleepers are back on Colombo Street, outside Ballantynes. 

I went past this morning on the way in and there were a few of them there in the doorway. They were there last week, too. After what seems like ages. 

But, it doesn’t seem to be the central city where homeless people are causing the most problems at the moment. Or, more correctly, it doesn’t seem to be the central city where people who want us to think they’re homeless are causing the most problems. 

With news today that aggressive beggars in Addington are making some people fear for their safety. Which has got community leaders - like community board people - saying that urgent action is needed to sort it out. 

Now, you might have heard me say in the past that, when it comes to begging, perhaps one solution could be requiring people to have begging permits - which would only be given out once authorities could determine that someone is genuinely homeless and genuinely in need. 

But I’ve moved on from that. And I think begging should be banned altogether. This would have to be done at local authority level - so it would have to be something the Christchurch City Council did itself. Or Selwyn or Waimakariri. 

The downside of local bylaws, though, is that the Police don’t enforce them. We saw that with the Cranmer Square occupation a couple of years back.  

There’s a bylaw against camping in public spaces but, when we started saying that the cops should get into Cranmer Square and clear them out, they said it wasn’t up to them - the council had to do it. Because it wasn’t a law of the land. It was the local council’s by-law. 

So, if your local council had a bylaw against begging, it would have to be enforced by the council itself. 

I actually think the real benefit of something like this wouldn’t be someone from the council turning up and moving beggars on - because, let’s face it, you might find it difficult finding a council staff member willing to take that on. 

I reckon having a bylaw would at least enable people - like you and me, like the people in Addington - to say, when approached by a beggar, that it’s unlawful. 

You could say: “You know you’re not allowed to do that mate.” Or: “You know there’s a law against that.” See what I mean? You can’t do that now. 

It would actually empower people to feel like they at least had something up their sleeve when they feel brassed-off or intimidated by a beggar. 

Because, wherever you sit on the compassion spectrum, beggars can be challenging to deal with. 

They can be challenging because you might be really compassionate and you feel like you have no option but to give them a bit of money - even if you know it’s not going to make any difference to their life.  

They can be challenging because you might be the type that thinks that, if you can support yourself without asking strangers for money, then why can’t they? 

And, at the other end of the spectrum, you just might feel intimidated or scared of a beggar. And that’s what’s going on in Addington, according to the news today. And it won’t just be Addington. This will be happening everywhere. You see it. I see it. It’s everywhere. 

But in Addington, at least, it’s apparently got worse over the last few months with parents taking the long way when they’re taking their kids to school, so they can avoid the beggars. At least they’ll have a couple of weeks off having to worry about that, with the school holidays starting today.  

I see that the chair of the local community board is saying that some beggars are coming up to people at ATM machines and standing over them, asking for money. Which is just cruddy, isn’t it? 

I mean, yes, you might be on hard times, but there’s no excuse for going up to someone getting money out of the ATM and demanding they give you some. That’s just next-level. It’s not even begging. The community board guy is right, it’s intimidation. 

I see Megan Woods is getting involved, having meetings with people. She’s saying today: “Unless you do something to actually address the problem, then you’re just going to move them on from one place to somewhere else.” 

Which is fine. And true. But “addressing the problem”, as Megan Woods puts it, is a huge task. And why should people intimidated by beggars be expected to wait - and continue to be intimidated - while society comes up with some sort of gold-plated solution? 

That’s why I think begging should be banned.  

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