Staff urge "multi-agency approach" for Wodonga Council on begging situation in response to petition pushing for move-on law.

NOT SURPRISED: Michelle McGowan, who took a petition up against beggars in High Street, said she believes the council is papering over the matter in its response. Picture: MARK JESSER

NOT SURPRISED: Michelle McGowan, who took a petition up against beggars in High Street, said she believes the council is papering over the matter in its response. Picture: MARK JESSER

A TOUGH attitude to beggars is being advised against by Wodonga Council staff, who say it would be “inappropriate” to alter local laws to deal with those asking for cash or food.

Two managers want the council to reject a petition, signed by 64 people, which sought a local law to move on beggars “accosting” citizens and businesses.

Community planning and well-being manager Claire Taylor and environment and community protection manager Mark Verbaken recommend “council staff broker a multi-agency approach to dealing with the issue of people asking for money or food in the public domain”.

The council will consider the recommendation at its meeting on Tuesday night.

In their report, Ms Taylor and Mr Verbaken state the Summary Offences Act allows police to move on those creating a threat to public safety.

“Amendments to council’s local law is (sic) an inappropriate response given the existence of current state law,” the pair declare.

Engaging welfare agencies would be done in tandem with the city’s compliance officers helping “members of the public feel safe from unwanted or unsolicited approaches”.

East Wodonga householder Michelle McGowan, who collected the petition after having her purse stolen in High Street, was not surprised by the staff’s reaction.

“Of course they were going to respond like that, that it’s not an issue in our town,” Ms McGowan said. 

“I think they’re just really blowing this off, they don’t understand exactly what’s going on down there.

“If they wore less formal clothing and walked down there they would be asked for something.

“We have just had school holidays, maybe they could ask people that have come into town and been affected.”

Ms McGowan welcomed engaging welfare services.

“I back that all the way, but at the end of the day there are all those agencies available already, so why aren’t people already using those agencies?” she said.

“They can go to St Stephen’s and get a feed, they can go to New Life Chapel and put their name down and get a feed there on a Wednesday, if they need help with a bill they can go to the Red Cross.

“There are a lot of agencies and they now offer these things, but they don’t use them.

“All it is for is their drug habits or drinking and it’s really affecting our social areas.”

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