The Dim-Post

April 13, 2016

Whaddya gonna do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 12:05 pm

Via Stuff:

Generous Wellingtonians are inadvertently funding criminals by giving to beggars, police say.

Inspector Terry van Dillen, of Wellington police, delivered that message to Wellington City councillors on Wednesday ahead of a debate on what to do about the city’s begging problem.

“Wellingtonians are very, very generous with their money. I’ve seen it myself on Friday and Saturday nights on Courtenay [Place] and Blair [St].

“People are throwing a lot of spare cash at the beggars,” van Dillen said.

It was unclear just how many Wellingtonians were aware that when they put money into a beggar’s bowl, someone else was often taking a cut, van Dillen said.

“What are we going to do about that?”

If only we had a large body of trained professionals granted extraordinary powers to capture and imprison criminals who steal people’s money.

40 Comments »

  1. “Steal”. “Take a cut”. Are these synonyms? I’m not sure it’s illegal to take a cut of a beggar’s takings, however unethical it may be. And the police can only take action on things that are illegal.

    Comment by PaulL — April 13, 2016 @ 12:15 pm

  2. I would wager that “take a cut” is synonymous with “demanding money with menaces”, which is illegal, although Inspector van Dillen is clearly unaware of any need for the police to do their job on behalf of beggars.

    Comment by Don 1 — April 13, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

  3. I’ve talked to a cop in the past who said that he liked having street people around as they kept an eye on things going on.

    Of course, if the cops spend their days in cars or walking around mob handed at night, they won’t have a chance to build relationships with people.

    Comment by richdrich — April 13, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

  4. Good thing that van Dillen backed up his statement with data and an indication of the scale too. Because as it is presented and reported, it certainly doesn’t feel like a jihadi brides-sttyle statement.

    Comment by Patrick — April 13, 2016 @ 12:36 pm

  5. And it’s great to have it reinforced that people actually choose begging, rather than taking advantage of the plentiful and generous welfare and jobs easily available.

    Comment by roy cartland — April 13, 2016 @ 1:36 pm

  6. My mother was in Italy in the 90s and before she flew home her and my stepdad decided to give the most disadvantaged and disabled looking beggar all the italian change and small notes they had before they caught a cab to the airport. When they piled the money into his plate apparently his eyes bulged out of his head and he tried to give it back which they took to mean he thought they were being too generous they gave him an “oh it’s nothing gesture” and refused. When they got into the cab they looked over to see the other beggars in the town square had hobbled over and were beating the shit out of their beggar and stealing his money.

    Comment by Cliff Clavin — April 13, 2016 @ 1:47 pm

  7. Or, another question might be WHY has Wellington (and Chch, and Hamilton and probably Akld but I haven’t been there lately) got so many street beggars? We never used to have people begging on the streets. Is this the economic miracle we were promised by politicians who have labelled themselves financial wizards?

    Comment by McNulty — April 13, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

  8. they looked over to see the other beggars in the town square had hobbled over and were beating the shit out of their beggar and stealing his money.

    And that’s why poor people are wretched undeserving scum, or something.

    Apropos the original post, I see there is quite a range of opinion from the Mayoral candidates re (i) whether there is actually a problem with begging (ii) whether it should be treated a public health issue, or a misdemeanour or criminal offence.

    I’ll admit to being someone conflicted. I don’t give money to beggars because they repulse / anger me (basically because I’m a terrible person), but I also don’t see the benefit in throwing the book at people who won’t pay a fine / will clutter up the cells.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 13, 2016 @ 3:38 pm

  9. Why is “begging” bad when “street appeals” are good? And if the concern is “[i]t was unclear just how many Wellingtonians were aware that when they put money into a beggar’s bowl, someone else was often taking a cut”, then what about the use of third party fundraisers by charitable organisations?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — April 13, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

  10. “…when they put money into a beggar’s bowl, someone else was often taking a cut”, then what about the use of third party fundraisers by charitable organisations?

    Exactly. As those who administer fundraising organisations no doubt live better than most beggars, eliminating the ticket clipper makes a lot of sense to a soft touch like me.

    Comment by Joe W — April 13, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

  11. “If only we had a large body of trained professionals granted extraordinary powers to capture and imprison criminals who steal people’s money.”

    They’re far too busy imposing Temperance Union morality on bars, restaurants and clubs to deal with beggars.

    Comment by Tinakori — April 13, 2016 @ 5:28 pm

  12. In the early 00’s, to pay for university (and also pay for booze), I worked for a branch of Cobra group. They’re one of the, if not the, biggest direct marketing groups on the planet. If you’ve been interrupted on the street, or in a mall, by a friendly young person asking you to sign up for a small monthly donation to a charity… then you’ve probably been interrupted by a Cobra independent contractor.

    When you sign up for those donations, some combination of an up-front fee and a trailing commission goes to Cobra and their contractor. If I recall correctly, worked out to something equivalent to the first six months of your regular donations going to Cobra before a cent went to the charity. Seems like a rip-off, no?

    And yet, we had charities falling over each other trying to get Cobra staff on the streets ‘selling’ their causes. That’s because Cobra trains their people to do the job exceedingly well. We were many many times more effective at getting people to sign up than the charities ever were themselves. As a result, we were able to offer the charities substantially stronger donation inflows.

    This has been a very long way of saying that if you want to get rid of ‘third party fundraisers’ and ‘ticket clippers’ then you’re probably going to kill off half the charities that currently operate in NZ today, and could very well end up with more, not less, people on the streets.

    Comment by Phil — April 13, 2016 @ 5:49 pm

  13. …then you’re probably going to kill off half the charities that currently operate in NZ today, and could very well end up with more, not less, people on the streets.

    You say that as if it was a bad thing. If “friendly young persons” took to begging directly for university and booze they’d get to keep the lot.

    Comment by Joe W — April 13, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

  14. “If only we had a large body of trained professionals granted extraordinary powers to capture and imprison criminals who steal people’s money.”

    Did your studious study of The Wire teach you anything about the limits of police power to eliminate entrenched crime?

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — April 13, 2016 @ 6:50 pm

  15. “Why is “begging” bad when “street appeals” are good?”

    Because people find the sight of miserable, destitute people disturbing and are frightened by the behaviour of some of the beggars.

    Well, it would be easy to solve if sanctimonious right wingers wouldn’t sabotage attempts to do something about it because they would prefer that everyone suffered lest the prospect of beggars receiving a decent social welfare benefit incentivise hordes of New Zealanders to start drinking meths, to sleep in the street, and defecate in public.

    Comment by L — April 13, 2016 @ 7:29 pm

  16. Crikey L.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — April 13, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

  17. Actually NZ’s social welfare system is pretty good by world standards. There really isn’t a person in NZ who is homeless or begging in the streets because they don’t get enough money from the govt to have a place to live.

    My understanding is that the bulk of people in this situation either have mental health issues or have substance abuse issues. If this is true, then the problem isn’t that benefit levels are too low, the problem is that we aren’t addressing mental health issues properly (which opens a whole can of worms about whether society is entitled to try to make people “normal”), and that we aren’t addressing substance abuse issues properly. Certainly giving these people more money won’t help them – especially for those with substance abuse issues.

    I suspect the policeman in question is just making the point (badly) that giving money to beggars is usually the wrong answer. He’s tried to point to a thing about begging that is bad, when really he should just have said that giving money to these people won’t help them. If we really care we’d be out lobbying for something better to be done in mental health.

    Comment by PaulL — April 13, 2016 @ 8:37 pm

  18. What is the problem with the police pointing out that homeless are preyed upon by extortionists – an aspect of their predicament the the public are probably unaware of?

    Comment by NeilM — April 13, 2016 @ 9:33 pm

  19. What about regulating begging? Licensed to beg. Keep it a simple process, something you can get from council. Make it easier than getting a license for a food cart – something anyone who can front up at a counter could get through in ten minutes. Don’t laugh: if the welfare system is as generous as we think it is, then you can only beg if you can show the friendly man at the council that you’ve been to WINZ and they’ve rejected you – say, you’re on a heinous stand down or something. Then you get a 14 day license or whatever. If you can’t show that, then you are default assumed not to have exhausted WINZ options and get no license, and if you beg without one you’re liable to a fine or to be moved on or hassled or whatever works.

    [A bit different but I note you can’t sue someone for lost earnings, costs etc after an accident, unless ACC declines cover, then you can (although it’s little known that you can sue for exemplary damages regardless)]

    Comment by Joe-90 — April 13, 2016 @ 9:35 pm

  20. Beggars should be entirely abolished! Truly, it is annoying to give to them and annoying not to give to them.
    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Comment by leeharmanclark — April 13, 2016 @ 10:02 pm

  21. @PaulL:

    Actually NZ’s social welfare system is pretty good by world standards. There really isn’t a person in NZ who is homeless or begging in the streets because they don’t get enough money from the govt to have a place to live. My understanding is that the bulk of people in this situation either have mental health issues or have substance abuse issues.

    I’ll quote part of Six’s recent post over at PA, because it expresses my thoughts better than I’d otherwise be able to:

    Not all are receiving a benefit or appropriate mental health care or addressing addictions. A lot of homeless people are not literate enough to read this rant, let alone comply with Work and Income paperwork. Street characters are not generally on the streets because they are socially compliant.

    As far as I’m concerned, if the available welfare isn’t actually getting to the people who need it, whether it’s because they’re not eligible or because it’s unreasonably beyond their means to claim it or because the paperwork requires skills and/or resources that they don’t have, then we may as well assume it’s not there for them.

    Comment by izogi — April 13, 2016 @ 11:18 pm

  22. “Begging” is BAD, “busking” is ok?

    Comment by peterlepaysan — April 13, 2016 @ 11:41 pm

  23. @izogi: so I think we’re agreeing. The financial support available from WINZ should be sufficient for pretty much anyone, particularly because there are a bunch of targeted benefits and special needs grants if your situation requires more.

    The problem is more that people are unable or unwilling to access them. Usually this speaks directly to mental health issues, because there are a number of NGOs who help people to access the benefits they’re entitled to, and they proactively go around homeless people and beggars and offer to help. So I’m not sure paperwork requiring skills and resources is really a thing either.

    There are also people for whom any amount of money is insufficient, because they have an addiction and any amount of money you give them is spent on their addiction. These people need a different intervention, not to be given more money.

    In short, I think my original assertion stands. Homelessness and begging isn’t really a money/benefits issue, it’s a mental health and addictions issue. And again I think we don’t do enough for mental health and addictions, but that’s not a discussion about our social welfare system.

    Comment by PaulL — April 14, 2016 @ 7:07 am

  24. “I worked for a branch of Cobra group”

    does GI Joe know about this?

    Comment by framu — April 14, 2016 @ 8:04 am

  25. Speaking as an ex-busker – yes busking can be very bad if you fail to tune your guitar, or get roughed over by a constable, peter

    Comment by leeharmanclark — April 14, 2016 @ 8:20 am

  26. I was just going to say – did you sweep the leg of anyone who didn’t donate?

    Comment by Exclamation Mark — April 14, 2016 @ 8:26 am

  27. @leehc

    I think that constable was speaking for all of us who have ever had to endure a busker’s untuned guitar.

    Comment by insider — April 14, 2016 @ 8:46 am

  28. “Actually NZ’s social welfare system is pretty good by world standards. There really isn’t a person in NZ who is homeless or begging in the streets because they don’t get enough money from the govt to have a place to live.”

    They’re not getting the support they need for mental health and substance abuse problems. I have zero interest in excuses given that for most of my life, and I’m pretty old now, you simply would hardly ever see beggars in New Zealand. In general, the better the social safety net, the fewer beggars you will see. It’s not like I haven’t lived in several different countries and seen the difference.

    It costs money to deal with begging, but it is worth it for everyone, including the beggars. In the city in which I live, many people now avoid the CBD because of the problem.

    Comment by L — April 14, 2016 @ 8:59 am

  29. Hi @PaulL. I’d agree that homelessness and begging isn’t entirely a money issue, but I don’t think that necessarily justifies claiming that NZ has a good welfare system. I suppose that depends on the semantics of how “welfare” is defined, including whether it’s entirely about making money available to people assertive enough to ask for it and on the assumption that they’re capable of using it effectively, or if it’s more completely about helping people who need the help. In my view if the government isn’t taking active steps to make sure that people who require the help are actually getting it (either directly or by making sure NGOs are adequately and fairly resourced), then the welfare system is less than optimal. To me it is a discussion about our social welfare system, because that system is not having its intended effect..

    Comment by izogi — April 14, 2016 @ 9:08 am

  30. I guess it depends on where you’re drawing boundaries. Mental health and substance abuse are problems in the health system, not the social welfare system. If you say that our social welfare system is broken then people will attempt to increase welfare. That’s not the solution – the solution is that people need proper medical care.

    But as soon as we recognise that as the problem, we also run into issues with personal choice. Some people actually do choose to be homeless – they don’t want a house, they don’t want possessions, they’re happy living rough. Can the government force them to be “normal”? Is it OK to force our standards onto them? Is the fact that they don’t want a house evidence that they have a mental health issue that needs fixing, or is it a legitimate choice that people are entitled to make? The simple solutions provided on blogs are often not sufficiently nuanced to work in the real work, and usually things are much more complex than they appear.

    In other words, I’ll happily agree that our society should help some of the needy more. I don’t believe that the problem is the benefit system – we have suitable benefits available for most people and most situations. There are problems with access to those benefits, but there are also NGOs that help people to access those benefits. There are definitely problems with our response to mental health, but there are also serious issues with mental health treatment in general. Many mental health issues have medical solutions (i.e. drugs that can be prescribed), but some of those drugs have quite significant side effects. So while it’s easy to assume that society should be giving those treatments to people, actually many people don’t want them. Is it fair or reasonable for society to force treatment onto people who don’t want it? Are their choices irrational? If you were them, would you want to take a drug that deadens you / dulls you down / makes you mildly unhappy every day?

    None of this stuff is easy, if it was easy it would have been “fixed” many years ago. It’s not just because the evil right wing baby eaters refuse to fund it.

    Comment by PaulL — April 14, 2016 @ 9:17 am

  31. Mental health and substance abuse are problems in the health system, not the social welfare system. If you say that our social welfare system is broken then people will attempt to increase welfare.

    Isn’t this the sort of silo problem that results in people falling through the cracks (and other cliche du jours)? Because the mental health people likely will say that if these folk fall under the (very high) threshold for involuntary committal, then there’s little they can do where a person is refusing treatment. Which then throws the ball back to social welfare authorities to tailor their processes and practices to deal with people who have untreated mental health issues – because if they don’t, then these folk aren’t going to access whatever help is available and so end up on the street, begging.

    Anyway, there may well be a much simpler way to deal with the problem of street living. Just give people homes: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/04/17/the-surprisingly-simple-way-utah-solved-chronic-homelessness-and-saved-millions/

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 14, 2016 @ 9:50 am

  32. @Flashing Light: it’s not necessarily the case that government can find a solution to everything. If someone refuses treatment and refuses support, it might be because they don’t want treatment and don’t want support.

    The solution you link to is a great innovation for the USA. But it sounds a lot like state housing, and we already have that solution in NZ. The residual homeless that they have sound like the same people we have homeless in NZ – people who don’t want to move into a home provided by the state.

    Yes, there is a problem with people falling through the cracks. That’s also not new. But you don’t fix people falling through the cracks by deciding to move something that the health system is funded and mostly actually good at dealing with into the social welfare agencies and asking them to do something they’re not skilled to do.

    If someone doesn’t want to go to WINZ to apply for and get their benefit, exactly what do you suggest that we’re going to do? Give it to them anyway? How exactly? Make it someone’s job to go around all the beggars on the streets and drop their welfare check into their begging bowl? (Actually, that one kind of appeals to me).

    Comment by PaulL — April 14, 2016 @ 10:08 am

  33. Make it someone’s job to go around all the beggars on the streets and drop their welfare check into their begging bowl? (Actually, that one kind of appeals to me).

    Bingo? If beggars are on the street and visible, then going there to see what help they need seems a lot better than this: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/278454/thousands-losing-benefits-due-to-paperwork

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 14, 2016 @ 11:00 am

  34. Oh – and on the point of “But it sounds a lot like state housing, and we already have that solution in NZ.”

    Not quite … or rather, not enough: http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/parl-support/research-papers/00PLEcoRP14021/homelessness-in-new-zealand

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 14, 2016 @ 11:02 am

  35. PaulL: many of the higher-value public housing properties have long been sold off, leaving mostly the dump properties in dump areas, and new public housing hasn’t kept up. Also, last I heard was that WINZ and the banks explicitly require a fixed address to qualify for assistance of any sort.

    Regarding Utah’s solution to fixing homelessness, it doesn’t seem to have the kind of vocal property rentier brigade that Auckland has.

    Tinakori: “They’re far too busy imposing Temperance Union morality on bars, restaurants and clubs to deal with beggars.”
    Or they could be too busy chasing pot smokers and growers, and whistleblowers who embarrass the government.

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — April 14, 2016 @ 4:14 pm

  36. “Or they could be too busy chasing pot smokers and growers, and whistleblowers who embarrass the government.”

    With you on the pot smokers and growers but don’t think Nicky Hager is a whistleblower, if that’s who you are referring to.Whistleblowers are traditionally people within an organisation who speak out or leak to others. The hacker of Whaleoil’s emails may have carried out a public service in revealing the inner world of a rather sad blowhard but they are not a whistleblower.

    Comment by Tinakori — April 14, 2016 @ 6:52 pm

  37. “Mental health and substance abuse are problems in the health system, not the social welfare system.”

    The idea that they are separate is an illusion. Many social welfare goods are provided via the health system, and vice versa (e.g. healthy homes).

    “But as soon as we recognise that as the problem, we also run into issues with personal choice. Some people actually do choose to be homeless – they don’t want a house, they don’t want possessions, they’re happy living rough. Can the government force them to be “normal”? Is it OK to force our standards onto them?”

    Yes. Begging is a form of anti-social behaviour, and we have no problems regulating that. If you want to see it as bribing beggars to stay off the streets, I am perfectly happy with that description.

    “Is it fair or reasonable for society to force treatment onto people who don’t want it? Are their choices irrational?”

    Again, the answer is “yes” in most cases since one of the reason people fall through the cracks is what economists call “hyperbolic discounting”.

    I honestly think that you have a completely unrealistic view of how modern societies work. Modernity is heavily paternalistic, but in exchange we gain a much better quality of life. I don’t have time to enforce my own food standards or to research how much drinking alcohol might impact my life, because nobody has enough time to engage with society on a fully consensual basis. Our capacity to engage rationally with the world is enhanced by offloading many cognitive tasks to other people. Some of us need to do this more than others do, but the poor folks who end up begging need it more than just about anyone, and the rest of us need it because their behaviour often makes our lives worse. Beggars themselves know this, but they just can’t help themselves.

    If you are trying to stand up for human dignity by sticking up for the right for people to drink meths and crap in the street, there is something wrong with you.

    Comment by L — April 15, 2016 @ 11:51 am

  38. “None of this stuff is easy, if it was easy it would have been “fixed” many years ago. It’s not just because the evil right wing baby eaters refuse to fund it.”

    lol. It was “fixed” many years ago when there were basically no beggars in New Zealand. I’d never even seen one until I went to live in London. Perhaps we ought to look at what we did back then as a starting point for dealing with it, and hey presto much of it seemed to have to do with forcing right wing baby eaters to fund proper public housing and suchlike.

    Comment by L — April 15, 2016 @ 11:54 am

  39. @Tinakori
    Since we don’t know who Rawshark is. we don’t know if he was part of whale oil’s organisation or not. He might or might not have been a whistle blower.

    Much like we don’t know who leaked Don Brash’s e-mails. They may or may not have been a whistle blower too.

    Comment by mjpledger — April 15, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

  40. @L there were lots of things we had in the 50s when the govt was very paternalistic. We also apparently had no domestic violence, and there were almost no gay people in NZ. I’m not sure I want to go back to that time. People with mental health issues often weren’t in a very good situation – locked up in institutions and forcibly given electroshock therapy. I’m sure you can do better than just harking back to a mythical better time.

    These are actually complex questions, notwithstanding that you think they aren’t. I work in the mental health arena, and whilst all the providers would love more funding, nobody pretends that we can make everyone better. Mental health issues are real illnesses, and just like we can’t magically make everyone with cancer better, we also cannot magically make everyone with mental health issues better. And, unlike many physical illnesses, there are fine lines between “normal” and “sick” in some diseases. There’s a reason we talk about the autism spectrum. Many mental health advocates worry a lot about a creeping definition of normality that eventually unnecessarily defines a lot of the population as being unwell, as opposed to just different. That’s very material when the treatment for that “illness” has significant side effects – it’s not always clear we’re making these people happier by treating them, but we definitely make lots of white middle aged males happier for not having to see people who are different to them.

    Comment by PaulL — April 15, 2016 @ 6:48 pm


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