Legal high users turn to begging at mall

By Kristin Edge

13 comments
The team trying to deter beggars in central Whangarei are City Safe officer Hoki Witute, left, Community Safety Officer Dave Palmer, and City Safe officer Gale Lewis. Photo/Michael Cunningham
The team trying to deter beggars in central Whangarei are City Safe officer Hoki Witute, left, Community Safety Officer Dave Palmer, and City Safe officer Gale Lewis. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Begging youths are targeting shoppers in central Whangarei and then using the cash to buy legal highs.

One Whangarei business owner said he could identify at least two groups of youths who regularly begged money and at times were very intimidating.

Whangarei District Council staff are urging shoppers to refuse to hand over cash and if they feel pressured or intimidated to ring police or City Safe officers patrolling in the central mall.

A report to a Whangarei District Council meeting last week highlighted the antisocial behaviour dealt with by two City Safe officers. That included begging and getting groups of people smoking legal highs to move on from behind commercial buildings and in the mall.

WDC is seeking feedback on its proposal to limit the sale of psychoactive substances to a three-block area of the CBD.

The council can't legally ban the substances but plans to restrict their sale in the central city to Lower Cameron St, Clyde St and Albert St and will only allow legal highs to be sold between 10am and 2pm, 6pm and 8pm.

Legal high stores could not be within 300m of each other, meaning a maximum of two to three stores in the zone.

Submissions on the council's plan closed on Friday and the number of submissions received will be known at the end of this week.

Community Services manager Owen Thomas attributes the consumption of illegal highs as one of the main reasons there was an increase in the number of people begging and stealing from shops.

He said there had been a noticeable increase in the number of beggars over the last 12 months and they were predominantly youths.

City Safe officers were moving the youth out of the city centre and if they were school students, alerting truancy services and schools.

He advised people to politely decline and not hand over money. If they felt intimidated they should call police on 111 immediately of City Safe on 0800 258 258 and officers would be directed to them. "Begging would stop if no one paid them," Mr Thomas said. Begging to fund legal high buys was not a problem just in Whangarei and places like Rotorua and Wellington had also experienced a rise recently.

A Whangarei business owner said he saw begging every day and could easily identify 10 regulars beggars.

"I've never given money to these people but at first I thought that it was because they were hungry and needed money to eat. But then it became clear that these people are saving their money so they can buy whatever substances."

He had identified a group of three girls who "hounded" people coming out of The Strand and once they had enough money they would pester anyone who was old enough to go and purchase their legal high fix.

He had seen people who had used legal highs become involved in violent arguments and sometimes physical violence.

The Northern Advocate asked followers of their Facebook page if they had been approached by youths asking for money and within minutes there were many responses about beggars.

Many responded saying they had been approached by young people asking for $2.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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