Weekend Sun   

Beggars divide opinion

Mount Mainstreet manager Peter Melgren has found a way to deal with beggars at The Mount: Photo: Tracy Hardy.

Beggars have divided the main street in Mount Maunganui.

On one side of the street there are calls for compassion and understanding towards those with their hands out. “Is the Mount too posh for poverty?” asks Hazel in a Facebook message to the Sun.

And on the other side of the retail boulevard they’re playing hardball. “Why does anyone in NZ have to beg?,” asks Karin. And “don’t feel sorry for (the beggars) because they put themselves there” says Harlem. “So suck it up.”

Either way Mount Mainstreet, a conglomerate of business and retail interests in the tourist and holiday trap, says it’s “managed to stop begging”. For the moment.

And from where you might expect there to be sympathy for beggars, there is none.

“We have discussed it and we don’t support that sort of behaviour in any way”, says Tauranga Moana Nightshelter Trust secretary Mike Mills. “The beggars are just giving a bad rap to people in genuine need.”

Back at Mount Mainstreet, boss Peter Melgren says begging will never go away because it’s the separation between those who have and those who don’t – “and those who have problems”.

He says there was a period of just a week where for some unknown reason the Mount had an unusual number of people coming in to entice people to give them money.

It coaxed local identity ‘Les’ into print in The Weekend Sun last week. “Lazy b*****ds,” he told The Weekend Sun. When he encountered his first beggar in 45 years living at the Mount he told him to “**** off to Tauranga”.

“No place for beggars in New Zealand,” decided the old immigrant English seaman. And he certainly didn’t want cruise liner traffic gazing on our less fortunate.

In turn, Les triggered a stream of online invective.

“Everyone has their own tragic story and not everyone’s on the street begging for money,” said one commenter.

“If you are out of a job there’s the dole, if you are out of home there’s the accommodation supplement,” said another. And “I don’t work hard to feed lazy buggers” said yet another.

People were passionate and polarised. Eruera railed against Les. “Ignorance is the only thing this Bay has Plenty of,” he said. From Zac: “This isn’t journalism, it’s a closed-minded old man having a rant”. And “help them out you snobby, grumpy old b*****d,” said Lae.

So how did Mount Maunganui “put a stop to it”? Mainstreet manager Peter Melgren called on his contacts to resolve the beggar issue. “I have very good relationships with the Police and council monitoring staff,” he said.

He likened it to the 24-hour liquor ban. “If someone’s being an idiot and breaking the rules, the Police will manage that for us as well. In this case, [they] weren’t doing anything different.”

So a fleeting problem dealt with socially and sensitively? Peter answers the question with a question. “You would hope we would handle it like that wouldn’t you?” asks Peter.

He insisted it wasn’t about being tough and heartless and kicking them out. “I went and spoke to some of them; you have to have a bit of heart.”

Peter says some of the beggars have very trying personal circumstances. “But they needed to understand this was probably not the place to fix those problems.”

Why not?

“Good question. And I have to be careful of my position. We have probably got the best boutique shopping in New Zealand and a very affluent market etc. And there is no place in the city we want to have people begging.”

But the beggars would come from lower socio-economic areas and there’s no point them begging in Merivale or Greerton. “Yes, we will still get them.”

On one hand, a hard line businessman, and on the other the altruist because after talking to one beggar Peter turned benefactor.

“I took some money out of my wallet, took him down to Burger King and set him up with an account. He needed food to get through the next three days. He went away quite happy.” The beggar later left a message at Burger King saying thank you.

“So if you can manage a problem, why wouldn’t you? And if you can help those people too, why wouldn’t you?”

Mike says they also approached a Beggar in Tauranga and offered him a warm bed, food and facilities. “The beggar basically told us to piss off because he was making serious coin out of the goodwill of people and we were interrupting his ability to do so.”

Mike is not saying there aren’t people with a genuine need. “But there are ways that can be dealt with and begging is not one of them.”

Begging, Mike says, is a behaviour that has taken hold with some people and they may or may not be homeless. “We are committed to alleviating homelessness and getting people off the street and we are getting good outcomes with the way we are doing it.”

According to Peter, the Mount has quite a big heart and has a wonderful sense of community. “Okay, there are a few people who’re a bit intolerant but you get them anywhere. And we should all do what we can.”

So begging for alms – a problem not finished with at Mount Maunganui, just dealt to for the moment.


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