CHRIS SKELTON / Stuff
Begging is on the rise in central Christchurch, according to a city business group.
For another month, arguments will be halted, anti-social behavior confronted and trash burnings extinguished in the Christchurch CBD.
It’s part of a three-month trial to rid the shopping district of aggression, often blamed on beggars.
Two trained security guards – known as “security team members” – began patrolling the city center in July. They were hired by the Central City Business Association (CCBA), partly funded by Christchurch City Council.
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Association president Annabel Turley said the lawsuit was a “proactive rather than reactive” response to rising tensions in the heart of the city. Until now, the guards’ list of tasks ranged from putting out trash fires to deterring petty theft.
“There has been a massive increase in anti-social behavior since the Covid-19 lockdowns,” she said.
“People’s mental health is not what it should be. We have seen what is happening in Auckland and Wellington… we don’t want Christchurch to end up like this.
A year ago around this time, social services kicked into high gear to quickly get homeless people off the streets to confine them. (Video first published in March 2021)
Antisocial behavior appeared to increase alongside an increase in begging and visible homelessness in the CBD, but social workers cautioned against lumping them into the same category as each other.
Zucchi Leonard, head of social services at Christchurch City Mission, said several people who spent their days begging in the CBD were not sleeping rough.
“Many [of the beggars] came through our services… I know they have a home to go to.
“Some homeless people beg, but often they don’t.”
She said aggressive demands for money from people who weren’t rough sleepers “give the homeless a hard time”.
Leonard’s team had observed a slight increase in the number of homeless people since 2021 – from 10 or fewer to around 20 – but the number has fluctuated. She said homeless people could find a temporary home or a friends couch and stay on the streets for a while before coming back.
More older people had access to their services, as did people who had moved from the North Island. Leonard said new homes were often built with families in mind, which was problematic.
“A high percentage of the people we work with are single men. They are at the bottom of the scale as a priority.
“Private rental for our clients is simply unaffordable.”
Christchurch Methodist Mission – Housing First, which hired an outreach worker in 2021, estimates there are around 70 rough sleepers in the city.
Director Nicola Flemming said a lack of mental health and addictions support was the reason for the increase, along with the cost of living.
“There are services available… but some have been there before and have been banned. They [the services] can’t handle drugs and trauma. They can be quite risk averse.
People housed or moved into motels during Covid-19 were back on the streets because “they fell through the cracks again,” she said.
A business owner herself, Turley said the difference of having a security team was “awesome”.
The association had not publicly announced the lawsuit and would not disclose its cost for reasons of commercial sensitivity, although Turley said it “costs us a lot” which is why there was a trial period.
She did not give a specific start and end time, but said they started patrolling early in the morning and finished after the stores closed.
Christchurch City Council community support and partnerships manager John Filsell said the council contributed $25,000 to the lawsuit.
This was decided by staff, using existing operational budgets, he said.
The trial ends on October 9.