Beggars on the streets are one of the most visible symbols of our society's failure, their increasing numbers an indictment of the current government. But the rich and powerful just Don't Want To Know, and so we've seen various local authorities try and "control" the problem and drive the destitute out of sight and out of mind. In Wellington, there was the "alternative giving" campaign, which turned out to be an expensive failure. And in Palmerston North, the council is planning to spend almost $20,000 to pay security guards to stand next to beggars all day:
The SafeCity Host programme involves security guards, known as hosts, patrolling the central city on Friday and Saturday evenings to assist in keeping the area safe.
A Safety Advisory Board working group has recommended a plan that would involve uniformed hosts standing next to beggars during the day, and discouraging people from giving them any money.
They would hand out brochures suggesting "worthy charitable organisations" people could give to instead.
(So, its basicly Jono Naylor's rugby-player initimidation plan, but with a different provider...)
Its the wagging finger of the nanny state made flesh and given a uniform: "don't give money to beggars! Force them to talk to WINZ or starve rather than cluttering the streets! Give money to approved, Worthy charities instead!". But its also very obviously legally dubious. The stated purpose of the policy is to prevent beggars from harassing people. But having someone stand next to you everywhere you go and interrupt any attempt by anyone to interact with you with a public warning? That seems to be the very definition of harassment. To point out the obvious, if I made a practice of standing next to any of the councillors who voted for this, with the purpose of reminding everyone they talked to about their voting record, they'd pretty quickly get a court order against me under the Harrassment Act 1997. The only thing that is protecting the council and its hired thugs from similar action is the low social capital of their chosen victims.
Last night, the council voted to implement this plan by a 6-5 margin. The guilty councillors were Annette Nixon, Susan Baty, Lew Findlay, Ross Linklater, Leonie Hapeta and Billy Meehan, with Vaughan Dennison abstaining. There's a local body election in a few months, so remember that list. I won't be giving any of these people a preference, and you shouldn't either.
Meanwhile, if you see a beggar with a security guard standing over them, give them money. And look the hired goon straight in the eye when you do it. Don't let the Palmerston North City Council intimidate you out of being a decent person.