Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Auckland's beggars--are they for real?

Anyone visiting the 'golden mile' that is Queen Street must have noticed the beggars. Some are 'in your face' while others sit on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for us to drop something into their  box, bag or whatever they use to collect their money. Some have signs asking for money or explaining their 'position.' At times one can feel a bit aggrieved at their insistence that 'life' has dealt them a low blow, but then you can be left wondering at the true situation that brings them to the street. I have heard people yelling at them to ‘get a job.' Others wonder what access they have to our 'benefits system.'
If you look a bit closer and listen for a while, other issues become apparent and it is these people I feel most sorry for. It seems that the 'mental health' system in New Zealand has let down a few of these characters, but whether the system has let them down or the individual has chosen to side step it is a moot point. We don't force people to engage in New Zealand unless they are a risk to others and even then, many slip through.
So, next time you pass a beggar on the street, take a moment to ponder what their real situation is. It is all too easy to pass judgment on a person, especially one sitting on the footpath, looking dishevelled and dirty. The proposal to ban beggars needs to be discussed sensitively and a decision about ‘banning’ them should not be taken lightly. It is a sign of the times (and probably always has been) that some people just don’t fit into our own comfortable confines of what constitutes a good citizen. Then as always there are those who will do whatever it takes to get a free meal card. Just don’t assume that the beggar you are passing is undeserving of your help.