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Justin Lester: begging is a social issue, not a crime

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, April 9th, 2016 - 50 comments
Categories: local government, poverty - Tags: , ,

The Auckland local government race isn’t the only one where begging is becoming a top issue. Here’s what Labour candidate for Wellington City mayor Justin Lester had to say about it on Facebook this week.

On Friday the National Business Review asked me and all other mayoral candidates whether we’d support a ban on begging in Wellington’s CBD. The suggestion was it would be a sure-fire route to the mayoral chains.

My response was a firm no.

Begging is a social issue with many causes. It is not a crime.

Let’s make one thing very clear from the outset, begging is not a lifestyle choice. Suffering a mental illness is not a lifestyle choice. Being raped or sexually abused is not a lifestyle choice, nor is being beaten up by your partner.

It would be great if no-one had to beg. It would be great if no-one was poor. The sad fact is that this is not the case. Beggars are often Wellington’s most vulnerable people and there are valid reasons why they’re on the streets. It would be great if every single Wellingtonian was educated, in work, and had a safe, warm home to live in, but we know that will not always be the case.

I’ve never had to beg, far from it. But I have seen what it’s like to be poor. My mother did her best to raise three children alone. She would have preferred a life with a caring husband and financial security for her family. But when my dad left and refused to pay child support, she was forced on to a benefit with three kids under five. It was hard for her to re-enter the workforce because after years doing it tough by herself she was broken, depressed and lacking confidence. Her situation did not come about by choice, it was imposed upon her by external forces. As a father, I see that now.

Take a situation like that and add a cocktail of domestic violence, drugs and alcohol. Remove the community and government support from around the individual and we begin to see why begging is prevalent.

So, how many people are begging on our streets? Council’s study shows it’s about 12-13 people at a given time. Those are not big numbers, but they are highly visible.

What can we do about it? We’re already doing a lot. We work closely with agencies like Work and Income, Police, Corrections, social service providers like the Night Shelter, Womens Housing Trust, DCM, Salvation Army and the Soup Kitchen. It requires funding and support, from both central and local government, but also from community and business. Those are the two biggest hurdles and almost always fall short. Funding is always hard to come by.

It also requires leadership. Just last month the Night Shelter told us they would be forced to close in April 2016 without immediate funding assistance. That would have meant 40 of Wellington’s most vulnerable men being forced to sleep rough. It would have inevitably led to some of them begging. I was proud to work with Councillor Paul Eagle and the Mayor to ensure short-term funding was provided. More support was confirmed in future years to reshape the Shelter’s service provision to help improve these men’s lives. How would a ban have improved these men’s lives if they were forced on the street, with no home or accommodation and a few weeks’ notice?

No-one wants to be poor, no-one’s first preference is to have to seek charity to survive. Sometimes things happen in life that we can’t control.

Making criminals out of beggars by introducing a bylaw that bans it does not address the root cause. It hauls them into prison and exacerbates the problem. Intimidating or threatening behaviour by beggars is already against the law and needs to be reported. Our local host ambassadors and Police address this behaviour. Call Police or WCC if you are experiencing it.

I recognise Wellingtonians are concerned about this issue. I’m concerned about this issue. We need to understand the problem, provide appropriate funding at all levels and try to address the root causes. Wellington is a generous, compassionate city, let’s not lose that by turning our head and not facing up to the issue in front of us.

50 comments on “Justin Lester: begging is a social issue, not a crime”

  1. weka 1

    Good post.

    What’s a local host ambassador?

  2. Sirenia 2

    They are people employed by the council (I don’t think they are volunteers) who wear a city council uniform and walk around Wellington giving directions to tourists, answering questions and just keeping an eye on things. Very useful people.

  3. Stuart Munro 3

    It’s a crime alright – and Paula Bennett is to blame – together with the rest of this corrupt and inadequate ‘government’.

    • Rodel 3.1

      “Hey John/ Bill. (Sirs). I’d like to go to an environmental/social development/economic/ conference in Seattle/ New York/London. Can I have some money to go? “(Got any spare coins mister?)
      ‘Why Seattle/New York/London/?’
      ‘Well I have family members there and it would be nice to to catch up with them again”
      “How much?..Would a dollar/$20,000 do?”
      “Thanks boss./mister”

  4. gsays 4

    What a refreshing change.

    Perhaps this is one of our new leaders who is not beholden to a ‘market’.

    Contrast this compassion and empathy with ms trolleys excuse for not raising the age (from 10 to 12 )a child can be charged.
    She doesn’t want to given the impression of not taking child crime seriously.

    The excuse is all about a political party and their appearances.
    Nothing to do with child welfare.

  5. Paul 5

    Criminal.
    Amoral.
    Treasonous.
    Parasitical.

  6. fustercluck 6

    Hungry people beg. Ergo hungry is a crime. And I must agree. I find it uncomfortable to be confronted with acute need as I cruise through my middle class day. I, as a taxpayer, deserve to be protected from this discomfort. So I vote yes to criminalizing anyone who displays anything other than a comfortable level of affluence. Perhaps chain gangs, debtor’s prisons or just a bit of soylent green would be appropriate in this case.

  7. AmaKiwi 7

    If you have a chance, read some of the firsthand accounts of life during the Great Depression.

    It started with:

    – private and public lay-offs to “economize” (austerity)
    – a dramatic drop in farm prices

    It started with . . . . no, read it yourself and tell me if today doesn’t sound exactly like then:

    – austerity is the only medicine
    – it’s their fault they are poor and they need to accept the consequences
    – the banks, big businesses, and the rich are above reproach
    – the free market will cure everything

    “Empathy is evil” was the mantra of the “haves.”

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      Yep. The parallels are astounding. Same policies now as then. Same response now as then. Same result.

      History is repeating because we failed to learn the lessons of yesteryear.

    • maui 7.2

      Surely a National voting middle-class can’t be made destitute when our Economy/Ponzi scheme carks it… if so it’s going to make for some interesting dynamics and not entirely savoury ones either.

    • Richard McGrath 7.3

      “– austerity is the only medicine
      – it’s their fault they are poor and they need to accept the consequences
      – the banks, big businesses, and the rich are above reproach
      – the free market will cure everything”

      Half-right:
      1) Yes, national and local government spending needs to be less than revenue (“austerity”), especially if there is debt to pay down. There is nothing stopping private charity and philanthropy from responding to personal poverty situations.

      2) Sometimes (not all of the time) the poor have contributed to their own misfortune by failing to take advantage of opportunities and making bad decisions. At other times
      events outside their control have been the main contributing factor.

      3) Banks are not beyond reproach, particularly the ones that accepted bailouts, and ons that operate without adequate reserves of funds. Rich people that have become that way through hard work and honest endeavour ARE generally above reproach; those that have benefitted from smooching up to politicians and having laws passed in their favour are scum.

      4) A free market can only operate in the absence of government controls such as minimum wage laws and other labour market regulations which the Key administration is so keen to implement. So the free market is not going to cure anything as it’s not been allowed to function.
      2)

      • Draco T Bastard 7.3.1

        Yes, national and local government spending needs to be less than revenue (“austerity”), especially if there is debt to pay down.

        Nope. That’s just an excuse to keep taxes lower than expenses.

        The government can create money and thus never needs to go into debt.

        There is nothing stopping private charity and philanthropy from responding to personal poverty situations.

        Charity doesn’t work. Never has done, never will do. If it did we wouldn’t have poverty.

        Sometimes (not all of the time) the poor have contributed to their own misfortune by failing to take advantage of opportunities and making bad decisions.

        Pretty much never in fact. You can’t blame someone for not recognising an opportunity or in choosing to take another opportunity.

        Rich people that have become that way through hard work and honest endeavour ARE generally above reproach;

        There’s no such thing. The only way to get rich is to steal off of others – lots of others, the entirety of society in fact.

        A free market can only operate in the absence of government controls such as minimum wage laws and other labour market regulations which the Key administration is so keen to implement.

        Wrong. Or to put it another way, would you still be keen on the free-market if the person you just ripped off could turn round and shoot you without consequence?

        The ‘market’ is defined by the rules and regulations. Rules around currency, rules around behaviour, rules around what you can and cannot sell. Without these you do not have a market but chaos.

        And, yes, ‘the market’ is a small subset of society.

        • AmaKiwi 7.3.1.1

          Draco,

          Thanks for answering Richard McGrath. I’ve been busy and didn’t checked The Standard until 2 pm Sunday. I didn’t think my remarks would kick off a conversation. You covered the bases quite nicely. Thanks again.

        • International Rescue 7.3.1.2

          Charity isn’t designed to eliminate poverty but to alleviate it. Charity has existed for eons, and fulfills a vital role no economic or political system have ever substituted.

          There isn’t a political/economic system devised that eliminates poverty. The free market is the best system for reducing it, but the poor will always be with us.

          The suggestion that you can’t get rich without stealing from someone, and that the poor have ‘never’ contributed to their own circumstances is fatuous nonsense, and could only come from a left wing ideologue with no experience of the real world.

          • Draco T Bastard 7.3.1.2.1

            Charity isn’t designed to eliminate poverty but to alleviate it.

            If we had a working system we wouldn’t need it.

            Charity has existed for eons, and fulfills a vital role no economic or political system have ever substituted.

            Wrong, go read Debt: The first 5000 years and you’ll learn of several successful societies that didn’t have charity and didn’t need it.

            There isn’t a political/economic system devised that eliminates poverty.

            Yes there is – you just don’t like it due to your ideology.

            The free market is the best system for reducing it, but the poor will always be with us

            No it’s not and no they won’t. The free-market capitalism is pure failure. That’s why it keeps falling down and needing massive bailouts by the non-capitalists which, of course, creates even more poverty.

            The suggestion that you can’t get rich without stealing from someone, and that the poor have ‘never’ contributed to their own circumstances is fatuous nonsense, and could only come from a left wing ideologue with no experience of the real world.

            No, the fatuous nonsense is that capitalism and the free-market will provide everything despite all the evidence to the contrary. Even my assertion that the only way to get rich is to steal from everyone else is based upon evidence.

            And I have lots of real world experience. I’ve been a manager, self-employed, unemployed, a student, made redundant, mugged, assaulted, drunk, stoned, sober, etc, etc

            • International Rescue 7.3.1.2.1.1

              “Yes there is – you just don’t like it due to your ideology.”

              What is it? Because there isn’t a single nation in the history of man that has completely eliminated poverty.

              “If we had a working system we wouldn’t need it.”

              We do have a ‘working system’. And we will always need charity.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Because there isn’t a single nation in the history of man that has completely eliminated poverty.

                Yes there is. The Australian Aborigines didn’t have any poverty before the English arrived. And that’s true for many indigenous peoples (also called nations) around the world and throughout history.

                We do have a ‘working system’.

                No we don’t. If we did we wouldn’t have poverty. Poverty is proof that the present system is failing.

                • International Rescue

                  “The Australian Aborigines didn’t have any poverty before the English arrived. ”

                  Rubbish. They lived in abject poverty, as did most indigenous peoples.

                  “Poverty is proof that the present system is failing.”

                  Rubbish. Again. Poverty in NZ is mostly self imposed; people have the freedom to live in poverty or move out of it. We are a remarkably generous nation, with significant wealth redistribution.

                  • Richard McGrath

                    Well said, IR. The reason many indigenous peoples lived in poverty was the unsophisticated nature of their labour markets and the tribal collectivism that ensured equal misery for all.

        • Richard McGrath 7.3.1.3

          DTB – your comments are staggering to say the least and reveal much about your mindset.

          Yes, the government can create money out of thin air – it’s called fiat money. That and easy credit are what causes inflation and debases the currency, destroying personal savings and dragging more of the middle class into high tax brackets.

          Individual charity is a moral response to perceived hardship on the part of others. It is not a “cure” for poverty, which incidentally has never been adequately addressed by simply throwing money at people.

          “You can’t blame someone for not recognising an opportunity or choosing to take another opportunity.”

          Whose fault is it then? You are saying no-one has to take any responsibility for their choices?

          “The only way to get rich is to steal off of others”
          So it is impossible to succeed in business by offering products that other people find useful and will pay money to purchase? So the multi-millionaire owners of TradeMe stole from the entirety of society? Likewise the billionaire owners of AirBnB and Uber? Wow that’s a pretty extreme viewpoint.

          “…would you still be keen on the free-market if the person you just ripped off could turn round and shoot you without consequence?”
          The free market you so egregiously misrepresent involves protection of property rights and the rule of law. “Ripping off” implies theft or fraud, which are not free market activities. Shooting someone will result in the police and justice systems determining whether shooting was justifiable; this would need to be on the grounds of self defence.

          “The ‘market’ is defined by the rules and regulations. Rules around currency, rules around behaviour, rules around what you can and cannot sell. Without these you do not have a market but chaos.”

          Yes there is the rule of law under which markets operate. As long there is no violence (extortion, fraud, physical assault or threats thereof) used, any rules around currency and what can be sold is a private matter between buyer and seller. Yes, there is chaos: also called the spontaneous order of the market.

          “And, yes, ‘the market’ is a small subset of society.”
          Think outside the box. The market is the sum total of peaceful human behaviour: consumption, production, purchases, sales, gifts, etc. Almost everything we do involves products made by others. We are not atomistic individuals living in isolation. The market = peaceful society.

          • sabine 7.3.1.3.1

            The market = peaceful society.

            and when some want something that you don’t want to part peacefully with you get bombed into the stone age.

            No the market is anything but peaceful. It is cruel, it is discriminatory, it is in many circumstances criminal and it is absolutely inhumane.

            And as we are always told by our politicians that are market orientated, the market is best left to its own devises, if regulated it would stunt growth and innovation, and if there are needs surely the market will fix it. Like housing. Or jobs. Or food. Or access to water. Oh yeah, it does not.

            • Richard McGrath 7.3.1.3.1.1

              So voluntary exchange, the specialisation of labour, the need for sellers to meet the desires of buyers in order to make a profit – these are cruel, discriminatory, inhumane?

              Let’s look at the examples you provide:

              Provision of food is perhaps the greatest example where a market economy beats the planned socialist economy hands down. The famines in communist China and Soviet Russia killed tens of millions of the unfortunate citizens of those slave pens. I can’t recall the last famine in an industrialised Western country.

              Jobs: the regions of Tasman, Taranaki and Southland – heartland NZ – all have over 85% of people employed working in the private sector. In Southland, Matamata-Piako and Queenstown-Lakes districts this figure is over 90%. So I guess the market has provided New Zealanders with a little bit of employment.

              Access to water – at the risk of sounding facetious, anyone with a roof can catch rainwater. The private sector provides a wide choice of bottled water in supermarkets; growing sales demonstrate consumer enthusiasm for this product.

              The provision of housing in this country is hampered by government and council regulation which restrict availability of building sites and make new housing expensive. However there are dozens of companies that can build good quality houses; some have been around for decades, e.g. Lockwood, a great Kiwi enterprise.

              I simply fail to understand your suggestion that bombing someone into the Stone Age is an appropriate or common response to a failure to secure a sale contract. It does not occur in civilised (i.e. Western) countries. Bombing people is generally the act of one government against the people of another country, not of private citizens and corporations.

              • McFlock

                Allende would disagree, if he were still alive.

                You might also want to look up the origins of the term “banana republic”.

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    We need to understand the problem, provide appropriate funding at all levels and try to address the root causes.

    The problem an root cause is capitalism. That being the case what we need to do is change our system from the present delusional one to one that works (or at least have a better chance of working).

    Capitalism has failed throughout recorded history destroying civilisation after civilisation.

    • Incognito 8.1

      The root cause is people. We make choices, individually and collectively, and these have consequences on an individual and societal level, even on global scale. The OP is saying that a lot of human suffering is not (because of) a “lifestyle choice”. I agree insofar that they were not predetermined conscious choices from the outset. But choices, very many choices, did lead to the present situation that people find themselves in.

      We like to be able to identify and point to big drivers or decisions, forks in the road, that we then use to ‘explain’ our current predicament. But life is not really like that; it is a chain of instantaneous choices and consequences. Life is constant renewal and (re-)creation.

      We can only direct and change our fate when we’re aware of our choices and their consequences. To put the entire onus on the individual, for ‘success’ or ‘failure’, fits/suits the Western ego-driven mentality, with its emphasis on personal responsibility, etc. However, each of us can only make conscious choices within his/her personal ‘awareness sphere’. We’re limited in our choices because we’re limited in knowledge & education, experience, vision, skills, role models & values (morals), (support) networks and so on.

      So, in my opinion, we have an individual and collective responsibility to help ourselves but also each other, others, and to shape the world we’re living in the way we choose.

      This does not take or require being ‘chosen’ into office, be it Mayor, MP (PM), Secretary General of the UN, or whatever; we all play a role in this, without exception.

      As a closing comment I’d like to say that I think the TS community is wonderful, all of you, without exception, together.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1

        We make choices, individually and collectively, and these have consequences on an individual and societal level, even on global scale.

        And those choices are limited and directed by the system that we operate within.

        • Incognito 8.1.1.1

          Exactly! But we created/chose this system and we can change it and create a new one if we choose to. Will it require a paradigm shift, evolutionary or revolutionary, will it (need to) be transcendental, or will it be variations on a theme? Obviously, the present leads to the future, but exactly how?

          For some reason this reminds me of a joke about a slow driver who listens to the radio and hears about a slow driver causing a huge traffic jam on the route and he (!) comments to his wife, with relief and in disbelief, that the radio must have it wrong because the road ahead is completely free.

          • AmaKiwi 8.1.1.1.1

            “we created/chose this system and we can change it”

            No, we inherited this system from those who went before.

            No, we can’t change it.

            The whole point is that those in power are working hard on all fronts to make sure the people do NOT have the power to change the system or control parliament.

            Parliament is sovereign. There are no checks and balances that enable the majority of the voters to direct parliament except a once every three years beauty contest to choose Dictator A or Dictator B, both of whom refuse to contemplate making the system more democratic or meaningfully socialist.

            • Incognito 8.1.1.1.1.1

              Unless you just got dropped on Earth from another world you made your contributions to your own life here, the lives of your nearest & dearest, and society or system as a whole. And you continue to do so, actively but maybe not completely willingly & knowingly. To inherit is a completely passive exchange; future generations can say the exact same thing: “we inherited it”. To me, it has the same ring as saying “Labour did it too” – saying such things does not absolve you from (taking) responsibility.

              Of course we can make changes and create new; change is inevitable. Our society and culture as we know it wasn’t built overnight, this is true; it was built by myriads of decisions & choices and actions by many people over many generations. Only a fatalist would argue that our present reality was entirely inevitable and thus predetermined by fate alone.

              Indeed, Parliament is sovereign, but it does not dictate how we feel, what we think and what we do. We elect MPs but our power and influence don’t stop there & then; it’s ongoing. I agree that our socio-political system AKA democracy is far from optimal with less-than-ideal outcomes but it can be changed – it has to.

    • Richard McGrath 8.2

      “Capitalism has failed throughout recorded history destroying civilisation after civilisation.”

      Whereas socialism succeeded so admirably in Soviet Russia, Romania, Red China, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, East Germany…

    • Richard McGrath 8.3

      “Capitalism has failed throughout recorded history destroying civilisation after civilisation.”

      Examples?

  9. Petertoo 9

    Let’s cut the crap here. Lester wants to become Mayor so utters the words the uncritical want to hear. The reality is that he is a below living wage employer with his personal business, so hardly one to be vested in addressing poverty. In his Councillor/Deputy Mayor capacity, he consistently supports re-diverting rates revenue to business orientated ventures and is an executive member of the Property Council – hardly the credentials for a poverty buster. His bleating is obviously to cynically counter the competition which includes “beggars are lazy bludgers who need a kick up the arse” type mayoral contenders.

    • The Chairman 9.1

      +1

    • Wainwright 9.2

      Keep seeing this “below living wage employer” line. Never seen any evidence?

    • weizguy 9.3

      Goodness you’re cynical. I’m not sure what your personal beef is with Lester, but it’s clearly affecting your ability to assess statements objectively.

      On the living wage, Kapai has committed to getting all of their staff onto a living wage – more than you can say for most businesses of that type.

    • Richard McGrath 9.4

      A below living wage employer – what, like former Labour MP Mark Peck?

  10. I have a modest proposal in the same spirit as banning begging.

    Why not simply kill and eat those who dare make us uncomfortable on the city streets? You’re not only eliminating beggars, but also saving people whose impoverishment risks them resorting to begging from having to buy food, thus creating a virtuous cycle that avoids begging.

    Oh, sorry, was that particular piece of satire too much for anyone? Well, I think it’s only deserved by those who propose banning begging, (which ought to be prevented by BORA, as begging being protected is a natural outgrowth of freedom of speech) or fining people for being compassionate. (people should of course be aware that often giving money to beggars can be an issue because some may prioritise alcohol or drugs, risking their safety. That said, never giving beggars money can also be just as risky for them, if they need to obtain new clothes, etc… rather than just fill their stomachs, and giving them food directly also has its downsides. (eg. some people will buy people who are very hungry very rich food, which they may not be able to keep down) Overall it would be best if we had actual experts helping so that they could make those critical decisions, and that we had programs to help lift these people out of poverty. But that would require a lot of political effort, and good luck selling right-wing councillors on that)

    And yeah, I’m not particularly convinced by Lester either. He’s saying the right words here but doesn’t really propose any positive course of his own. That’s not leadership, that’s simply responding to outrage. A potential mayor can and should do better.

  11. Ad 11

    Lyn what’s the policy on candidates posting in election season?

    Personally I’d like to see this site used a whole lot more by candidates to display their credentials.

    Good post BTW, but the writer could have been a lot clearer than get to “recognize” and “concern” and even “provide”, to state a specific amount or policy instrument that he would stand on the alleviate the problem. No, I’m not talking ‘solve poverty’. Just something concrete that potential voters can decide upon.

  12. Sirenia 12

    By the way Justin is a really good guy, good values, great backstory. For some reason right wing ex Labour member Nick Leggatt from neighbouring city Porirua has decided to stand against him. I would be suspicious of his backers and their motives. He has certainly lost his credibility with many locals.

    • Anne 12.1

      Is he not part of the Phil Quin/Josie Pagani gang? Should it be so, that is enough to be suspicious of his backers and his motives!

      • Jenny Kirk 12.1.1

        Anne – are you talking about Leggatt, or Lester ? I don’t know much about either.

        • Sirenia 12.1.1.1

          Nick Leggatt is the carpetbagger. He was a great promoter of a monster Wellington super city, and was on the right of the Labour Party. The media loves to use him as a commentator. Why he would stand against Justin Lester who is a young local businessman who has done a lot of Labour Party work and has developed a cohesive left team, is a mystery. Nick could have stood for selection as the official Labour candidate but didn’t.

          • CC 12.1.1.1.1

            Stop re-writing “secret slush-fund Lester’s” background and illusory attributes Sirenia. He and Leggatt are much of a muchness and neither are valid representatives of the left.

        • Anne 12.1.1.2

          @ Jenny Kirk
          Leggett.

    • millsy 12.2

      Legget implemented a harsh austerity program during his Porirua mayoralty. He is not the progressive wunderkind everyone makes him out to be. He also tried to flog off Porirua’s pensioner flats, but was forced into a humilating backdown which saw the flats managed by Wellington’s council – sort of a pre-cursor to his dream of One Wellington (something I am not nessesarily against).

      There seems to be a lot of furore about whether political parties should stand candidates in council elections, but IMO I am all for it. At least when I vote, I know which candidate is going to vote to sell pensioner flats, privatise water and close libaries.

      Celia Wade Brown may have been a lacklustre mayor, but it seems her real crime in the eyes of the establishment was to not toe the ‘lets build roads everwhere’ line.

  13. Begging is a social issue, not a crime. Spot on. I concur with that.

    Regards,
    Elsie

  14. Jollo 14

    I think clearly some more analysis needs to be done on it.

    It’s a fact that there are agencies working directly with the ‘beggers’ to try and get them off the streets. And this includes MSD, HNZ, and various community groups like the Auckland City Mission etc. But the reality is, to some extent, it is a life style choice, in so much as there are viable alternatives.

    So what more can you do, to the proportion who actually through alcoholism, mental illness or just by choice, choose to stay on the streets. Begging represents an extremely lucrative way to supplement income, it’s tax free and involves no work or pesky WINZ case managers harrasing you about job opportunities or courses.

    The best way to get them help is to cut off that source of income.

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  • Stay safe on the tracks – Rail Safety Week
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