Argument rages over whether begging is a crime

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle says attempts by the Greens to decriminalise begging will rob the city of the only means it has to divert people off the streets and get them appropriate help.

The proliferation of beggars around Flinders St station and major CBD thoroughfares continues to be a contentious issue and Cr Doyle said that being able to charge people with begging was the only legal means for authorities to intervene.

“It offers us the lever to engage with that person to compel them to get the help that they need,” Cr Doyle told radio station 3AW.

Cr Doyle also said that, as well as those who genuinely needed help, there were “hard core” professional beggars, aggressive ones or those who had homes but were supporting drug or alcohol use. Authorities would be powerless to act in these situations if begging was decriminalised.

Over the past five years 800 people have faced charges for begging, which carry a potential 12 months in jail.

The Greens are putting forward legislation in state parliament to decriminalise begging but have not received any support from the Andrews government.

Melbourne greens MP Ellen Sandell argued it shouldn’t be against the law to peacefully hold out a cap when in need.

“We know that there are a lot of people struggling to find a house and sleeping on the street,” Ms Sandell told 3AW.

“There’s no sense making it a crime to ask for help.”

She argued that NSW and WA had decriminalised begging without detriment and that with 100 people being turned away from emergency accommodation every day in Victoria the resort to jailing beggars would not work.

Ms Sendell advocated what she called an “evidence-based” approach to reducing homelessness with more early intervention for those at risk and more support services.

Cr Doyle’s stance has been backed by Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle, who last year created controversy by saying that many rough sleepers weren’t homeless and in some cases were travellers earning money to support their trip.

He told the Herald Sun that he was unaware of any “people being fined or locked up for begging” but that police needed the power to deal with those who were aggressive or threatening.

Last year Crosslight talked to John, one of the homeless people who had set up a makeshift camp in Melbourne City Square.

“We’re being harassed just for sitting down. We’re trying to be peaceful,” John said.

“We’re trying to keep to ourselves. We’re not being violent or harassing anyone and yet we are being treated the same as people who are violent.

“The council has been trying to get us homeless people to move on, but we’ve got nowhere to go.”




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