Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Auckland considers beggar ban bylaw

They're intimidating shoppers, say businesses ... council plan is fascism, say street people.

Begging could be banned throughout Auckland under a bylaw being drafted by the council - a move described as overdue by advocates and fascist by those targeted.

An initial draft of the bylaw banned asking for money, food, other items or soliciting donations "in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person".

But after public feedback, commissioners appointed by the Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have recommended all begging be banned.

The total ban was sought by business associations, including Heart of the City, and an upmarket department store, which said a hard core of beggars intimidated shoppers.

"We have too many examples of behaviour being defended under the guise of exercising a public right to occupy public spaces," said Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney.

But councillor Richard Northey, the only commissioner of four to oppose a ban, said it was over the top, "provided they don't aggressively or pesteringly seek to get that money".

Cathy Casey, another councillor opposed to the ban, said only three submitters - Heart of the City, Onehunga Business Association, and the Smith & Caughey department store - asked for begging to be outlawed.

"To enact a bylaw based on three submissions from three groups with a vested interest is not good enough - this is a bylaw for the whole region."

But councillor Mike Lee, chairman of the hearing panel, said a ban on begging reflected feedback from Aucklanders.

Beggars would not be "thrown outside the city gates", but would be given support and guided to relevant agencies.

The bylaw was still being drafted and was not final.

"Walking by or dropping a coin in a cup is not a humane way to deal with the problem."

Mr Lee said the begging would have to constitute a public nuisance, but public feedback indicated the act of begging in a busy area could meet that threshold.

"If a storeowner complained and said, 'This guy is causing a nuisance, he is putting people off', then the council will go and talk to the beggar. And if necessary, we will move the beggar on."

Mr Swney said the power to move someone on was needed when all else failed.

Most of the time, organisations such as the Auckland City Mission or Lifewise could help defuse problems, he said.

"However, there are some that are there for other reasons, and most of them aren't to do with begging. And we are powerless to move them on."

Onehunga Business Association manager Amanda Kinzett said begging had become worse in terms of numbers and aggressive behaviour.

Main streets were hurting, she said, and shopping centres did not have the same problem.

Wilf Holt, of the Auckland City Mission, said there was a hard core of about 20 beggars in the downtown area, although the number varied. It had increased in recent years.

Simon Robinson, begging for money on Queen St yesterday, said he did so for about three hours a day, and felt he had the right to do so.

The 43-year-old, who began begging five years ago after his debts got on top of him and lives in a boarding house in Mt Eden, said banning begging was a "bit fascist" and "stepping towards a police state".

"I used to shoplift, so it's either that to get food, or sit there begging and not being a nuisance, and as soon as someone gives me $20 to get a decent meal and a couple of cans of beer, I'm off."

Rules for the street

Beggars: regulated by the police, but soon to come under a council bylaw prohibiting obstruction in public places.

Buskers: must obtain council licence, free of charge, governing noise levels, performance times and variety of repertoire.

Charity collectors: must belong to an industry association which rosters their numbers to ensure there are not too many on the streets at any one time.

Auckland Council is currently reviewing the current bylaws with the aim of introducing a single region-wide bylaw on Street and Public Places trading.

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