Undertaken by the Palmerston North Safety Advisory Board the campaign, Give Wisely, aims to minimise the effects of begging activities on pedestrians and retailers, encourage beggars to make better life choices, encourage residents to give to charities that help people make life changing decisions and improve the Broadway experience.
Palmerston North City Council's city safety coordinator Alane Nilsen says regulatory solutions such as Bylaws have not worked in other centres hence a more collaborative community orientated approach is being taken to reduce the income beggars earn from the street.
On average, says Alane, there're about 10 beggars in Palmerston North and the numbers have remained fairly stable for a number of years.
"We've spoken to each of them and worked closely alongside social agencies and police. The beggars are assessed for food, financial, accommodation and psychological needs. As far as we are aware they are all receiving their entitlements and all have had either offers for accommodation or they have accommodation already."
"We're also aware, from international research, that people from lower socio economic groups, women and students in particular, give the most to beggars. What we're hoping to do is educate everyone so they understand that in Palmerston North our beggars all receive benefits."
Senior Sergeant Brett Calkin says in August there was an increase in aggressive begging in Broadway Avenue and as a result patrols in the area were increased. "We will not tolerate aggressive forms of begging. If you are concerned about the behaviour of a beggar(s) then call 111 and we'll respond."
Senior Sergeant Calkin says anyone who feels threatened should go into the nearest shop or find a parking warden and ask for assistance.
Palmerston North City Council general manager Customer Services Peter Eathorne says parking wardens have historically held an ambassadorial role in the city. "We're reinventing that role and encouraging our parking warden team members to talk with and assist anyone having difficulty with a beggar. If you need assistance then please approach one of our team, while they don't have authority to move beggars on they will stay with you, support you and even call the police for you."
Last December, the Give Wisely campaign ran in the lead up to Christmas and anecdotally led to a significant reduction in the income beggars made from the public. It also led to beggars frequenting other areas of town including supermarket car parks and shopping areas outside the CBD.
Earlier this year a third year Massey University student undertook a survey on the perceptions of beggars in Palmerston North and preliminary results showed of those who knew (19% of those surveyed) of the Give Wisely campaign, 44% changed their behaviour. Senior Sergeant Calkin says in terms of 'change behaviour' this is significant. "We believe a further more sustained push will lead to beggars having to make better life choices."
This year the Give Wisely campaign will run for longer, from November through to February. Alongside the posters and flyers that made up the campaign last year there will also be radio, cinema and Giggle TV advertising. This has been made possible by contributions from Downtown Cinema, The Safety Advisory Board and the Palmerston North City Council.
"We know that a lot of students and people on low incomes tend to give as they empathise with the sense of need, however this isn't New York or Johannesburg, this is New Zealand which has a welfare safety net and all of our beggars in Palmy receive benefits and have accommodation options," says Senior Sergeant Calkin.
Later this year the Massey University student's research on public's perceptions of beggars will be published. Alane says the team will use that research to further influence the campaign. "On top of that we're also closely monitoring Auckland's new begging Bylaw which will be implemented in the New Year. We're very keen to see what effect it has."
Alane says everyone involved in the project is acutely aware that begging has been an issue for millennia and to date no democratic nation has solved the issue. "Despite that, we're committed to reducing the amount of money earned through begging as we