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