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Beggars or choosers?

Radio New Zealand Radio New Zealand 21/10/2015 By Katy Gosset
Jackson asking for help in central Christchurch. © RNZ/ Katy Gosset Jackson asking for help in central Christchurch.

Jackson sits outside the shops of the Christchurch suburb of Richmond, with his hand-written sign made from a piece of cardboard.

He says recently left jail and can't get a benefit - and is one of a number of people who have resorted to asking passersby for money on the city's streets.

He usually makes about $40 a day.

“I only just started doing it because I’ve just got out of jail and WINZ won’t help you because [I’ve] got no ID to get in, so there’s no other way [I] can get by.”

Jackson, who doesn't want to be identified by any more than his first name, says he would rather be asking for money on the street than committing a robbery.

“At least [by begging] I won’t go back to jail.”

He uses what he makes to buy food and sometimes stays in a backpackers hostel for the night to avoid getting caught in abandoned buildings.

Listen to Katy Gosset's report

Gary Dickie also regularly begs in central Christchurch. He says his criminal record makes it hard for him to get a job.

Gary Dickie regularly begs in central Christchurch. © RNZ/Katy Gosset Gary Dickie regularly begs in central Christchurch.

He says he begs to give money to his other homeless friends and makes just over $30 a night, which he sometimes uses for alcohol or drugs.

"It's hard to come off that stuff especially if you're grieving. I had a good life with my girlfriend and now it all went downhill and I'm just living all by myself now."

Quite a few people willingly give him money without him even having to ask, Dickie says.

His daily routine often consists of "[waking] up with a mean hangover” then doing it all over again, he says.

People often tell him to "get a job".

"But if they say 'get a job', I say 'are you going to employ me?'"

Dickie says he doesn't swear at them or get cheeky, and instead gives them kind comments.

"I put my hat out, I sing songs, tell jokes - bit of a comedian.

"If you make people laugh, they will give, but if you don't make them laugh and they're angry people you just talk to them - see if you can get in their head that it's hard out here."

Challenge for Christchurch

However, not everyone is happy about the presence of beggars in the Christchurch, and the council is looking at ways of dealing with the issue.

Councillor Paul Lonsdale has been considering ways to tackle begging in the city after receiving complaints from businesses and individuals.

“Sometimes when they're walking around asking for money they can become quite aggressive."

Some business owners have also faced aggression from beggars who have been moved on from shop doorways, he says.

"That's a concern and we just need to find out what we can do to actually address that."

The council hasn't ruled out a by-law, but he says any move would only address public nuisance.

Instead, he believes a multi-agency approach, partnering with organisations such as the Salvation Army or the City Mission would be more effective in getting beggars the help they need.

Amy Burke has been working with local beggars to help them get off the streets and access support services.

Her group, Help for the Homeless, aims to “provide help for those who are homeless and in need” and sets us various initiatives, including serving free lunch in Latimer Square.

Having an online presence, such as a Facebook page, has improved her group's profile and prompted more donations, she says, but her site is also targeted by people wanting the organisation to pay for other services or to share their plight online.

"There's too many of them - we only share our own [Facebook posts]."

Burke says the limited resources available to the organisation must be kept for the homeless community in Christchurch.

As Christchurch starts to address the issue of begging and looks at ways to deal with it, Jackson sums why he spends his days sitting on the footpath asking people for money.

“It’s all about survival."

This feature is part of the Begging in New Zealand series runs from 19-22 October on Nights with Bryan Crump, with additional daily online content at

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