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Friday, 14 December 2018 02:50 pm

Neither spit nor spare change are what capital beggars really need

SPARE CHANGE? A Wellington beggar endures the elements

BEGGAR Solomon Thomas is sitting on his regular Wellington street corner when the woman’s spit hits his face.

His anger explodes into a punch and tears stream from the woman’s eyes and blood drips from her nose.

Not long after Solomon has wiped the phlegm from his face, he is in the back of a police car and is on his way to jail.

The assault charge is not his first, and neither is the abuse.

“Some of the people walking past look at us like dogs needing to be put down,” Solomon says.

You don’t need to walk far down Cuba St or Lambton Quay before the reality of Wellington’s begging community reveals itself.

Cardboard signs attempt to pull at heart strings for a quick buck.

Many of these people are trapped in an indiscriminate and destructive cycle. It’s a reality that most Wellington citizens can’t see or choose to ignore.

Some choose to give them change, but not the kind they need.

Mental health issues, drug addiction, convictions and a reliance on prescription medication are just a few of the barriers facing Wellingtons’ street community.

They are unable to hold down a job and have to turn to begging or busking (if they happen to have a talent or an instrument) in order to make ends meet and mask their pain with substances.

Regularly abused, judged and even spat on – spending your days begging for money comes with a price.

“Get a job!”, “xxxx off!” and “scum,” are just a few of the phrases the beggars tell me they deal with on Wellington streets.

The smell is the first thing that hits me as I walk into the home of one of these groups to get an insight into the life of the “street society”. Some decline to give their full names.

They dig through their mountain of cigarette butts they acquired from the gutters that day and relax with a few bourbons and prescription pills.

Piles of mattresses and blankets fill every room in the house.

Addiction is apparent with empty bottles and drug bags covering the floor.

Dana, a 12-year begging veteran, says she has had mental health issues which have plagued her for a number of years.

Her body has developed a dependence on prescription medication.

She says the withdrawals are unbearable.

“I didn’t choose to get hooked on these pills. I thought the doc would know best.”

Her moods are still very unpredictable and she has not applied for a job in nearly a decade.

“There’s no point, aye man after seeing and talking to me they don’t want to hire me.”

“It’s sad how quickly they judge us instead of wanting to help us,” she says.

James, Dana’s partner, is a drug addict who requires $100 daily to feed his methamphetamine habit.

James had tried to go to a rehabilitation facility but the cost and wait were unrealistic for him.

“They want me to get sober before they offer me help. How am I supposed to do that alone that’s what I need them for,” he recounts with a mix of exasperation and disbelief.

William (who does not give his last name) has so many convictions he is condemned to be a beneficiary until he dies.

The former Black Power vice president is still haunted by his days as a gangster.

With a long history of criminal offending William finds gaining employment impossible.

The pattern soon becomes clear as members of the group recount their stories.

So what services are available to help these people change their lives for the better.

The Wellington Free Store

FREE FOOD: The Wellington Free Store

There are a number of social initiatives designed to improve the lives of those feeling ill equipped to survive.

The Wellington Free Store has been helping feed hungry locals for almost five years thanks to the generosity of local businesses.

“We wouldn’t really eat at all if not for the Free Store. Food has never been a priority as an addict,” James says.

Kim Patton founded the store in 2010 which was originally on Ghuznee Street, and it has evolved into a sustainable project.

The Free Store’s website states: that has redistributed 25,000 food items to 11,000 individuals who have come through the store.

Wellington’s daily surplus of food from cafes, restaurants and bakeries is now being used to cater for the portion of our community struggling to meet basic living needs.

Benjamin Johnson, the store’s operation’s manager, sees first hand every day the difference the store makes in peoples’ lives.

“It’s such a worthwhile service we provide and it is awesome to see how grateful our customers are,” Benjamin says.

The store runs out of a renovated shipping container at St Peter’s Church on Willis Street.

Benjamin says the container, architectural designs and building work have been donated by local businesses.

The store has a variety of food to offer including coffee, bread, fruit and even sushi.

Benjamin believes all Wellington citizens deserve fresh quality food and not scraps from the bin.

“I love being a part of something that is really helping people,” he says.

HELPING HAND: The Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre

 

Open Monday- Friday from 6pm until all the food is gone, the free store has no criteria to be met in order to be eligible for free food.

About 5.30pm the community gathers outside the church for their fresh food.

They share stories of their struggles and discuss the days wheeling and dealing.

Another saving grace for James and his friends is The Suzanne  Aubert Compassion Centre which operates out of Tory Street, providing food and social services to those struggling to live within their means.

Jessie Dennis is the community engagement advisor for the centre which offers free social work and breakfast, along with a hot meal for only $2.

“Choice is relative,” she says.

“To dismiss a beggar as lazy or opportunistic is an unfair judgement.

“Some drastic measures are needed if we are to make create long term change,” she says.

Solomon says he and his friends would be content with better treatment on the streets.

“We are still people.”

“Treat us like it,” he says.

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