Hamilton beggars: is it ‘Do not feed the animals’?

There is something dehumanising about the campaign by the Hamilton Central Business Association to stop people giving money to beggars. It feels like the ‘Do not feed the animals’ signs found in zoos and suchlike across the world.

My family do nearly all our shopping in central Hamilton. We like its character, wide verandas and sense of renewal. We have never been hassled by beggars on our outings. But if I want to give a few dollars to someone with their hat out then I will.

The Hamilton Central Business Association talks about people getting the ‘correct’ help. They seem to believe there is a good safety net to catch up all the people they will help evict from the central city. There really isn’t.

A recent Poverty Action Waikato report, ‘Neglect and Nurture’ presents a more flax-roots picture than is usually painted by the Key Government. It illustrates the increased conditionality of public and social services in Hamilton. The inflexible requirements for accessing services means that people are often not getting the support they need.

The report tells us people who must attend a budgeting course before accessing funds may face a 2-3 week wait. That to have mental health problems now makes people more vulnerable than ever. It talks about how difficult it is to access a caseworker and about recent immigrants from the Pacific getting little support. There is insecure and overcrowded housing and the predatory activities of instant finance companies increase the likelihood of debt.

The problems highlighted are not just a Waikato issue. The report of the Cross-Party Inquiry on Homelessness published this month also concludes that a large number of eligible people are not being helped by the relevant Government agencies, Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development. Other providers are not getting enough resources to deal with the volume of homelessness either.

The language of the Cross-Party report is of people falling through gaps and cracks but they seem more like gaping crevasses. Up and down the country our society is becoming more punitive when we should be doing more to help.

Beggars might well use the money for addictions but middle class people have more expensive ones. My niece and her husband accidently bought a P-contaminated house this year. It was all over the news and the house was in leafy Waikanae of all places.

Hamilton is also a very comfortable place to live for the middle classes. At home by the Waikato River there are tui and fantails and kowhai and nikau palms. On long weekends many people seem to go off to their holiday homes.

It all begs the question, in what ways are the Hamilton Central Business Association going to provide extra support for the beggars they want to remove off the streets? They could fund the support through other organisations or directly and they could lobby local and central government.

Otherwise they should just allow Hamilton’s central streets to remind us of the deeply unequal society we all live in.

Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato and a member of the Poverty Action Waikato working group.

Published in the New Zealand Herald, October 21, 2016

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Vulnerability: An Ongoing Story

“We applaud the work of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services in the launch of their final Vulnerability Report today. These reports have kept issues of poverty and the range of pressing issues that those living in poverty are facing at the forefront”, says Dr Anna Casey-Cox of Poverty Action Waikato.

The NZCCSS report highlights that what social services in Hamilton are seeing on a regular basis is also experienced on a national level. “Too many people have too little. People aren’t getting out of poverty by living on nothing”, says Karen Morrison-Hume, Missioner of Anglican Action in Hamilton. “More funding is needed for services to address increasing demand and the increasing complexity of their needs, and more funding is needed for those individuals and their whānau.”

Wages have not risen sufficiently to cover increases in accommodation and living costs, the report stipulates. “Being employed on the minimum wage means living in poverty for many families we see”, says John Kavanagh, Manager of Catholic Family Support Services. “We pay a Living Wage because we believe that it is hard to survive in our community without a reasonable amount of income, and that we see many people who struggle to survive on their income. If we were all paid a Living Wage a lot of the other poverty related issues that people face would disappear.”

Food poverty and insecurity is described by the NZCCSS report as a now normalized issue facing our communities. Poverty Action Waikato’s latest report shows that community responses to food need in Hamilton are on the rise. But this is not surprising to many of the social services. “Of course this is happening”, says Robert Moore, Social Justice Enabler at Anglican Action. “If we as community can feed people who are hungry we will do it, but it’s living in the tension, because then Government can say, ‘well the community is doing it now we don’t have to’ and put up barriers to access assistance for food, or not make sure people have enough money to feed their families. But actually, this isn’t what we are funded to do. The community will always try and fill any gaps with whatever resources we have, but that’s not an excuse for Government to create them.”

 

Ends

 

See the full NZCCSS Vulnerability Report here.