COMMENT:

The debate about banning begging is hotter than a hangi stone - and kai is a good starting point to try to understand the underbelly of begging.

Perhaps the ban should have been on giving beggars money and not banning the beggars, because in the case of some beggars working the streets, it is not about begging for kai that keeps them camped up on shop frontages.

We really do need to get real about why we give money to beggars and ask ourselves is it to absolve ourselves from guilt, is it because we feel sorry for them or is because we want to blame anyone and everyone else on their behalf.

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I suspect it is the latter.

Here are some statistics about the begging backstory in Greerton that is a very useful template for the rest of Tauranga, if not all of Aotearoa.

Three years ago, we had a well-spoken elderly out-of-town itinerant walk into our social services office and plead for help to get to his mokopuna's (granddaughter's) tangi.

I was completely taken in by his cry for help and forked out 40 bucks, not knowing that he had already pulled in $120 from three other shops and an office down the same street.

It was not until one of my staff noticed him coming out of the TAB, did we know we had been scammed.

This kickstarted the beginning of begging. When word got around the hood that you could make $200 in a morning - if you had a good backstory to your begging.

Today, generally speaking, we have as our top three hard-luck stories to lure in punters as firstly kai, then money for a tangi and then money to get to a job interview - with even a flash CV to authenticate the cause.

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Sadly, for them and us, it's all about the coin not the kai.

Just like all other cities and towns the stats tell us more than 90 per cent of the putea (funds) goes on feeding drug and alcoholic dependency, and when you saddle that up with mental health issues you have a realistic snapshot of what is needed if we are to truly address the needs of beggars.

In our opinion, formed by 60 years accumulative experience here at Te Tuinga Whanau Social Services Trust, there are in New Zealand three types of street dwellers you will see who, at first glance, fit the profile of a beggar.

The first is the "streetie" and in Tauranga we have some who have many years on the clock as a hard-core rough sleeper. These people are very adept to surviving on the streets and don't cause too much bother. They are on benefits and have case managers who do a great job.

Then there is the itinerant rough sleeper who migrates in and out of homelessness for a myriad of circumstances, mostly disconnection from family and whanau support. Some of them lose their benefit and end up begging.

The third is the beggar, which is the sector that we are talking about today and their motivation is money to support their addictions. Kai is not a problem for most of these three sectors as we have an army of angels who work tirelessly to feed them, Kai Aroha being one organisation my staff are closely connected to.

We have witnessed 10 boxes of uneaten pizzas stacked up outside their hangout because it's coins, not kai, that they are looking for.

So, do we continue to support the GDP of organised crime by supporting the habits of these unfortunate souls?

Until we can turn off the tap that is feeding their addiction nothing changes when nothing changes.

Councillor Terry Molloy understands this because he has taken the time to walk in our shoes and understands the demographics of our street dwellers. When you do the economics, a few people's addiction and mental health issues against the survival of families trying to earn an honest quid, it makes a lot of sense to ban begging.

More empathy and less sympathy is the pathway forward if we really want to help the homeless.

The efforts of the Night Shelter, both the men's and soon-to-be the women's, should be supported at every opportunity as they are the gateway to reconnecting these lost souls and to putting them on a pathway to finding their way back to their families and whanau.

The big challenge will come when we as a community finally realise this is a health issue not a social service, council or police kaupapa. We have no beds to look after those who want to get clean, nor do we have the facilities to look after the lost who need specialised social surgery that only trained clinicians can provide

So let's find the grateful beds for our wahine and our tane who need shelter from the storms of life, and while we are working out how we want to make our empathy count let's support those leaders who are brave enough to make the tough calls.