Thursday, April 18, 2024

Kerre Woodham: Beggars used to be part of the community, what changed?

Back in the day when I lived in Ponsonby and it was only just starting to evolve as a shopping and cafe destination, we didn't have beggars per say. More, they were people who were living in community houses who would walk up and down the street, and they were simply absorbed into the community.

They were given cigarettes from the smokers who were sitting at the outside tables of the cafes that had established themselves. There was always a meal for them at many of the cafes and the restaurants that were popping up. There was a brush and comb set set aside at Servilles for one of the ladies, who would come in every morning at 10am, and asked to be made beautiful. And they would comb her hair and brush it, and somebody would spritz her with hairspray and off she'd go. They weren't part of the mainstream; they were living in community houses because they had various forms of mental illness, but they were part of the community, you knew their names, you could greet them. You sometimes got a response, sometimes didn't. But everybody knew who they were, and they belonged there. It's just simply not like that now.

And I don't know whether it's a chicken and the egg, whether we've got more uncaring, or they've got more volatile. The square pegs who live amongst us appear to have got a whole lot more aggressive. There's a woman in Ponsonby now, who screams foul-mouth invective all day, every day, while dragging a heavy suitcase behind her, and either cannot or will not engage if you say hello to her. It just means she'll turn and scream the cuss words at you.

There's a bloke who's been there forever, who just about gives me a cardiac infarction when I'm sitting at the lights musing about the day ahead, and all of a sudden there's a bang, bang, bang on the back window, or the side window, or the front window demanding money with menaces. Even if I had actual money in the car, which I very seldom do, I wouldn't give it to him, because he terrifies the living bejesus out of me for a moment while I'm sitting there.

Some of those begging outside supermarkets seem genuine souls. As I say, don't carry cash very often, but when I say that and offer to buy the man or woman lunch instead, the offer is gratefully accepted and the food is eaten immediately, after a thank you. Clearly, there are some who are hungry and have run out of means to feed themselves. What do we do with those amongst us, who feel they have to take to the streets to beg for money or food to get by?

Rotorua is seriously considering a bylaw banning begging after ten Aussie tourists were physically accosted at a cafe last week, and in one suburb in Christchurch, also this week, aggressive begging is making people fear for their safety. Residents are having to change their routines and stop visiting public spaces to avoid confrontation and they're looking to make rules around begging there too.

What happened to being able to absorb those members of the community who are different? Did they change or did we? Is that there are so many people on the streets now? Is it that so many of them are on drugs, and boozed to the eyeballs, and volatile? You don't know what they're going to do, even if you offer something in kindness, you don't know how it's going to be received. Are beggars seen as dangerous now rather than just odd? Are they unnecessarily parading their poverty? Going out of their way to make us feel uncomfortable?

‘There’s a welfare system there man, for the love of all its holy use it, get yourself out of my sight. Stop hassling me. I've already given through my taxes. If that's not enough, get a job.’ Is that the attitude now? Because a lot of the people that I've seen, don't look to me, I'm no expert, but they do not appear to me to be people who could hold down full-time jobs. They appear unable, not unwilling, but unable to hold down a full-time job, in that case, living in a big city you're probably going to have to depend on the kindness of strangers to get by.

In Christchurch, they’ve said don't give to people who ask. They're waiting outside shop entrances following people to their cars, trying to convince them to cough up cash. And the only reason they're doing that is because people are giving them money. So basically, the Christchurch councillor appears to be saying don't give them anything. Treat them like pigeons. If you feed them, they'll keep coming, so don't. He said, if you've got a kind heart, donate money to the city mission or a social agency that's working in these spaces rather than give money direct. Which may well be the best way.

But I'd love to know in your area how big a problem is begging? It seems to be everywhere now, everywhere. And what changed? Is it the sheer weight of numbers of people wanting? Is it the attitude and the behaviour of those who are demanding money? Because there was a time, wasn't there, where they used to be part of the community.

Kerre McIvor, is a journalist, radio presenter, author and columnist. Currently hosts the Kerre Woodham mornings show on Newstalk ZB - where this article was sourced.


DeeM said...

Labour happened, Kerre.
You know, that great bastion of the working classes. Unfortunately, they trashed the economy, made mental health much worse, ruined the education system....all the things we rely on to keep society humming along.

They were too busy dividing us all by ethnicity and gender to see what was happening to New Zealand. None of them could balance a budget either, Grant Robertson is ample proof of that.

That's why NZ feels so much more pessimistic and run down than it did 6 years ago.
Yep, yep! That's what a wacko Labour government will do to you.

Anonymous said...

The shop owner in queen st said the beggar who sits outside his shop makes $300 tax free per day on average plus he gets a free apartment and a benefit. They block the footpaths and urinate in public. They should be banned.

robert Arthur said...

In the far off fities when the world was orderly and safe, and hardly anyone was so wealthy as to eat outor have a coffee, thre was an offence Idle and Disorderly. Could not have today as maori would be over represented and the Waitangi an Tribunla and a myriad others would bemoan that.Seems many laws are not not enforced for fear of boosting the mori statistics., with a very detrimental efect all around.

Moderator said...

Cor blimey, Robert, how many did you have under the skin when you wrote that? I've noticed on previous occassions that spelling and grammatical errors appear to increase as we approach evening :). I love your comments so keep 'em coming but keep an eye on the language or I may have to disallow some comments for fear that nobody will be able to make heads or tails out of them.