NZ Local News

Beggar groups travel to Rotorua to make up to $400 a day from ‘generous’ locals

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Beggars are coming to Rotorua from out of town to ask for money because locals are considered more generous. Photo / Getty Images

A Rotorua beggar says being hit by a car and charged in court won’t deter her as she makes up to $300 a day. She says local “streeties” are dealing with groups of beggars from out of town on their “turf”. Authorities say they are cracking down amid safety fears and reports of beggars operating in syndicates and making $400 a day. The city has a “generous” reputation but a prominent businessman is urging locals to stop giving. Kelly Makiha reports.

Organised begging gangs are believed to be travelling to Rotorua because the city has become known as “generous” to the homeless – with some boasting they can make up to $400 a day.

It has prompted local homeless people to ask them to move from their turf.

It comes as police and Rotorua Lakes Council this week revealed a tough new approach towards beggars – now charging them if they persist in begging in the middle of intersections.

The problem with unruly out-of-town beggars got so bad at McDonald’s Rotorua nearly two weeks ago the franchise owner had to close the business in the middle of the day for about 15 minutes until police arrived.

Rob Parry said his staff asked beggars on the property to move on but they abused the staff and threatened to return.

Parry said staff had to take action when the beggars returned with three or four more people, acting in an intimidating way.

“We had to close the restaurant for a small portion of time . . . It just goes to show it can happen any time during the day.”

Parry said no one was charged, but customer and staff safety was always a priority.

Parry said they had been told an organised group was begging, potentially to give the money to one person or group.

“Certainly it is an organised ring. It’s like clockwork when they move and stand at a different corner so it appears to be fairly orchestrated. If someone comes on to their turf in their timeframe, that’s when we get the fights breaking out.”

Parry said beggars operated at the end of the McDonald’s drive-throughs during all hours and staff knew which ones were local. He said the actions of all were unwanted but there was nothing staff could do if they were standing on the footpath.

He said they appeared to be “working” in organised shifts and some had told him they were making up to $400 a day.

Parry said he strongly advised people not to give them money because it encouraged them to continue.

“We don’t like it because they can be abusive towards our staff and customers and we wished there wasn’t a demand for it.”

The Rotorua Daily Post reported in October that a beggar punched a Rotorua McDonald’s manager twice in the back of the head as she tried to stop a drive-through fight.

Rotorua police area commander Inspector Herby Ngawhika told the Rotorua Daily Post this week police were now charging people who begged in the middle of intersections with an offence under the Land Transport Act for remaining on a roadway longer than necessary to cross it.

Rotorua police area commander Inspector Herby Ngawhika. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rotorua police area commander Inspector Herby Ngawhika. Photo / Andrew Warner

Homeless man George Mohi was fined $35 and ordered to pay court costs of $130 in the Rotorua District Court last week.

Ngawhika said many locals were not happy with the beggars’ actions and felt intimidated. He said the action was also about the safety of motorists, other pedestrians and the beggars.

The inspector said he had heard anecdotally about beggar syndicates coming to Rotorua. He confirmed he had also heard some could instructed by drug dealers to pay off debts.

Senior Constable Tony O’Keefe, who was often on the frontline dealing with the beggars, said in a statement in response to Rotorua Daily Post questions that there had been fatal crashes in Rotorua where pedestrians were involved at intersections.

He too was aware of out-of-towners coming to Rotorua to beg for money.

“There is a group from Taupō who travel daily because they say Rotorua residents are more generous than Taupō residents.”

Familiar Rotorua homeless woman Mary Cooper was hit by a car a few weeks ago while begging and is facing a begging-related charge in court, but she says it is unlikely to deter her from doing it again.

She still carries her piece of cardboard around that politely asks for food or money because she says she can earn $200 to $300 a day.

Cooper spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post this week as she arrived at the West End Dairy on Malfroy Rd with homeless friends just before the banking side of the dairy opened.

Cooper had a cast on her arm and she and her aunt, Elizabeth Cook, confirmed the injury was caused on a Saturday about a month ago as Cooper walked across Amohau St while begging and was hit by a car at the Amohia St intersection.

“I’d been standing at the traffic lights,” Cooper said.

Mary Cooper has been charged after being hit by a car while begging at an intersection. Photo / Kelly Makiha
Mary Cooper has been charged after being hit by a car while begging at an intersection. Photo / Kelly Makiha

She said she had surgery the following day and now had “nuts and bolts” in her arm.

She had lived in several emergency housing motels in Rotorua previously but said she and her partner could not get a motel together any more because she had been told the couples motels were full. They were now living outside the window frame of the Salvation Army building on Pukuatua St. She said they were finding that more comfortable than living in doorways.

“We got heaps of blankets. It’s pretty good.”

Cooper had been summonsed to appear in court in May and faced the same charge that Mohi did.

Cook said the local “streeties” were not operating in gangs or syndicates. Instead, they just got what they needed and carried on with their days.

She said often the locals begging for money would make their $20 for a “tinny” (quantity of cannabis) or synthetics and then move on.

She said the homeless were feeling “picked on” by being charged in connection with their begging.

“It’s the easiest way to get a something when you got a nothing without having to steal it.”

Cook said sometimes out-of-town homeless beg on their “turf” but locals always politely ask them to move on. She said they were usually responsive. She said they hadn’t been involved in any turf wars or fights.

“They just say, ‘Oh sorry, whaea’. I haven’t come across an ugly yet.

“People are so generous. That’s why they are coming up from Taupō.”

Kelly Makiha is a senior journalist who has reported for the Rotorua Daily Post for more than 25 years, covering mainly police, court, human interest and social issues.

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