NFP Alliance Calls for Begging to Be Decriminalised
20 October 2016 at 3:19 pm
An alliance of seven welfare organisations has called for begging to be decriminalised, saying new research shows high levels of childhood trauma and mental illness amongst people begging in Melbourne.
The alliance said using courts and police to respond to an issue of poverty had been ineffective in reducing begging, and only served to entrench disadvantaged people in the justice system.
They have launched a campaign called Asking for Change, which coincides with the release of research by Justice Connect Homeless Law that showed a third of people who beg for money in Melbourne had experienced family violence, 37 per cent reported childhood trauma or abuse, 80 per cent had been unable to find work for 12 months or more and 87 per cent had a mental illness.
Justice Connect Homeless Law provides legal representation to people experiencing homelessness.
“We all want to see begging reduced, but it’s time we accept that the current response is not working,” the manager and principal lawyer at Justice Connect Homeless Law Lucy Adams said.
“In the last five years, over 800 charges have been laid against people for begging in Victoria.
“We should be tackling the underlying cause of begging, which is a lack of affordable housing for disadvantaged people, and a greater need for homelessness prevention programs.
“Our research shows that people who beg are likely to have suffered severe life trauma and disadvantage, forcing them into arguably one of the most demoralising and humiliating of situations.”
Adams said the vast majority of people who beg were passively sitting on the footpath, and aggressive behaviour could and should be dealt with separately by police.
“Police can continue to deal with the very small number of people who beg aggressively by using different laws, such as the offence of using threatening words in a public place. Sitting passively on the footpath with a sign asking for money should not be a crime,” she said.
The alliance calling for the decriminalisation of begging includes Justice Connect, Council to Homeless Persons, Melbourne City Mission, cohealth, Launch Housing, StreetSmart and VCOSS.
“People who beg need support and housing, not a criminal record. Begging is not a lifestyle choice, for many it’s a necessity,” CEO of the Council to Homeless Persons Jenny Smith said.