Out of sight-out of mind seems to be the logic of Auckland City’s bylaw to come into effect next month, to outlaw begging on the streets. The clear message from Native Affairs report, ‘Walk on By‘, last night, is that the bylaw is the result of pressure from the comfortable middle classes. The supporters of the bylaw are motivated by their own beliefs or myths about begging, and claim they need to be “protected” from harassment by, (allegedly) dangerous and threatening beggars.
As reported on Native Affairs the bylaw states:
A person must not use a public place to beg, or ask for money, food, or other items for personal use. Or solicit donations in a matter [sic] that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person.
It is punishable by a $500 fine.
There are no statistics or hard data that support the need for the bylaw: just anecdotal evidence from those who don’t like having beggars on the streets. As the Native Affairs journalist stated,
It’s rare to be accosted let alone pressured by them.
That’s my experience. In West Auckland I have on occasions been asked for money, but never harassed, threatened or intimidated. The people begging have always been polite and pleasant in manner.
Auckland Council spokesman, Callum Penrose from the Auckland Council Regulatory and Bylaws Committee could only cite complaints from members of the public as evidence. And he clearly saw the issue from the perspective of those who complained. He had no empathy for, or concern about, the people begging, and was struggling to support the reasons for the bylaw with any significant evidence.
When asked what is being done to help people in poverty who are begging, he claimed the help was available from the police and through the court system and community groups. He also tended to dismiss the idea that people were unable to find work. He said businesses claimed they were unable to find people for some jobs, so people needed to look at the bigger picture. Indeed!
The spokesperson from Auckland Action Against Poverty, Alistair Russell, said the bylaw was an over-reaction.
It’s a lack of choice that drives people to begging. To single out a subset of society and to say that they don’t have the right to be on the streets, is an indication of a society that is, ah, that is in itself sick. Those people who are in a situation where they are begging are simply a very small minority of a large number of people in poverty.
One guy on the street was asked, “Why do you beg?”
Ah to get food. Just a little. Yeah. Food clothing. Cos I can’t get me a job, eh bro?
The journalist reported that Green co-leader, Metiria Turei had said that,
Police already have the powers to deal with beggars who intimidate or are aggressive.
Turei stated that:
But to have a by law to move people off the street just because it’s unsavoury for some businesses. It’s not good enough. We are a first world modern and compassionate country. We don’t treat our citizens like that. We shouldn’t.
Alistair Russell, Turei and the Native Affairs’ journalist were talking from a totally different perspective from Penrose (the Council spokesperson). They talked about the people begging and people in poverty in a way that affirmed them as citizen: first class citizens with equal rights and as legitimate needs and desires as those who wanted beggars off the streets. Those presenting arguments in favour of the anti-begging bylaw, clearly talked about people who beg as though they are second class citizens.
The journalist concluded that,
People who beg are often among society’s most vulnerable. Trapped in poverty addiction and deprivation.
Penrose claimed that there needs to be a culture change. I agree. But his idea of culture change refers the idea of some that it is the beggars who need to change their “culture”. It is the (too wide spread) culture of poverty denial and blaming those in poverty for their circumstances that needs to change. Pushing beggars off the streets will not help bring about such a culture change. It is a return to 19th century Victorian values.
[Update] The bylaw only says it’s an offence where begging causes a nuisance]
Beginning on page 6, it says:
Nuisances, safety and behaviour in any public place
(1) A person must not use a public place to:
(f) beg, in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person;
Unfortunately, though, it is open to interpretation as to what sort of behaviour causes a nuisance or intimidates another person.