Community & Environment

Your help may harm – working together to address begging in our city

Your help, may harm

A multi-agency campaign aims to educate Hamilton residents about the negative impact of giving money to people begging in the city’s shopping areas, and how help can be provided in other ways.

The “Your help may harm” campaign is a partnership between Hamilton City Council and business and social support agencies around the city.

“We’re asking members of the public to help people who are begging by not giving them money,” says Cr Angela O’Leary, who chairs The People’s Project Governance Group.

“Instead you can help them get the help they need by calling City Safe on 0800 7233 2489.

“It’s essential for these people to get the support they need – and that may come from several different agencies,” she says.

Hamilton City Council City Safe Manager Kelvin Powell says his staff will respond in person and are trained to find out what support and assistance the person who is begging needs, and attempt to connect them to services in the city providing sustainable, long-term support.

“What we’re doing here in Hamilton is working together as a community, in a socially responsible way and with a lot of heart, to address the small issue we have, to stop it getting bigger.”

Cr O’Leary says one of the myths about begging is if someone is begging they must also be homeless. But local evidence has shown this is not necessarily true.

“It is a very complex issue, but what we know is in Hamilton not all people who beg are homeless, and not all people who are homeless beg,” Cr O’Leary says.

Mr Powell says there is a small group of 12-15 people begging regularly around the city who are known to the Council staff and social services – and the majority are not homeless.

“The issue we have with begging in Hamilton is very small in comparison to other cities, and it is absolutely solvable with the community’s support. What we have identified is a number of the people begging in Hamilton have very complex issues.

“There is also local and international evidence begging is often done to support an addiction.”

Giving money to people who beg may help them remain trapped in their lifestyle, rather than seeking out the support and advice needed to break the cycle.

“Over the past few years the number of people who are begging has grown in many cities and towns across New Zealand. Although there are many complex reasons for this, communities have now realised that without a strategy to address begging, the number of people begging will continue to increase.

“What we’re doing here in Hamilton is working together as a community, in a socially responsible way and with a lot of heart, to address the small issue we have, to stop it getting bigger.”

Mr Powell says if any members of the public are concerned about the health or safety of someone begging or concerned by a person’s behaviour they should call City Safe. Anyone who feels threatened, intimidated or in danger should call 111 and notify the police.

Mr Powell says it is also important the community understand it is not illegal for people to congregate in public places, and similarly there is no law preventing people from begging.

“However, the right thing to do is to help people get the long-term sustainable help they need, and we can only do this with support and help from the wider community. Instead of giving people money, please call City Safe,” Cr O’Leary says.

If people see a crime being committed they should call Police on 111. But for begging-related behaviour, City Safe is on-hand to respond on 0800 7233 2489 or 0800 SAFE CITY.

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