This was published as a letter in the New Zealand Herald today Thursday, 4 July.
Begging, like child prostitution, is an awkward issue for people to discuss. It is emotive and brings out the best and worst in people’s thoughts.
Some see it as an industry and some folk see them as bludgers. To others they are victims, many of whom have mental health and other health issues. Few believe that these people are employable and many of us who get to know them a little understand that there are bigger issues involved. Some of these people were actually servicemen.
We have lost two of these people in Ponsonby and Krangahape Rd in the last two years. Both Margaret and Robbie had well attended funerals and all who attended were surprised at how normal their lives had once been.
Others, like Wellington’s Blanket Man, slowly died of malnutrition over many years. Some cried for him but many didn’t notice or care.
To address this issue it is best managed by agencies, the councils and the central government. Local communities live with street people every day and Central government and City Hall may have the solution in their hands.
Benefit changes last year tightened the access to some benefits which may well have been responsible for a lift in the numbers of people begging and involved in child prostitution. There is anecdotal evidence that many of these teenagers selling themselves and the people begging are no longer eligible for benefits that they previously had.
With Councillor Casey and other prominent Auckland citizens on Thursday night I’m sleeping rough to highlight the big issue of homelessness and to raise funds for Lifewise (bigsleepout.org.nz) who work to alleviate the problems of the homeless and find a sustainable solution. Check out Gerry Hll fundraising on this site.