Wodonga councillor suggests High Street beggars could be invited to have a coffee outside chambers in debate responding to petition over High Street cadgers

Base for beggars?: Wodonga councillor Tim Quilty has suggested the grassy surrounds of the city's council offices could be used to host those now pleading for cash and food in High Street.
Base for beggars?: Wodonga councillor Tim Quilty has suggested the grassy surrounds of the city's council offices could be used to host those now pleading for cash and food in High Street.

FURNISHING cups of coffee outside Wodonga’s council offices has been tossed up as a way of handling beggars in High Street.

Councillor Tim Quilty made the suggestion during a debate at Tuesday night’s meeting about a petition calling for action on beggars along the shopping strip.

“I see there’s some nice grassy area outside our council building here, some chairs,” Cr Quilty said  

“Maybe we could do something like deliver a coffee at 11 o’clock and encourage them to come across.

“It would be an opportunity for council staff to interact with these people as well, as well as making a place for our other agencies who want to be involved and come and meet them.”

Cr Quilty’s outline came after he said he did not believe there was a solution. 

“We need to accept these people are, at the end of the day, part of our society and part of our Wodonga,” he said.

Mayor Anna Speedie welcomed the discussion generated by the petition.

“Let’s keep our eyes on it, let’s not just not address it, not look at it because it makes us uncomfortable,” Cr Speedie said.

“Let’s make sure we keep working with the other authorities, including the police if that is actually what is needed, if it does become an intolerable behaviour, but let’s hope it doesn’t go there.

“Let’s hope the compassion from everybody in our community means that people get the support and the help that they need.”

Former mayor John Watson said he did not like the use of the word ‘beggar’.

“You can subtly say ‘no thanks’ if someone does request funds from you,” Cr Watson said.

Councillor Libby Hall said during last year’s election she had spent two weeks in High Street and was exposed to those subject to the petition.

“A lot of them did have major issues and I found them very reasonable to be quite honest,” Cr Hall said.

“That’s not to say that the issue in the petition doesn’t exist...there can be aggressive behaviour.”

Councillor Danny Lowe noted if the beggars were moved on they could be given “a fine they would not pay or spend a few hours in jail and be back on High Street the next day”.

“We need to help those that are less fortunate than ourselves, let’s start addressing the problem and focusing our energies advocating for change,” Cr Lowe said after highlighting disadvantage indicators in Wodonga.

Councillors accepted a motion rejecting the petition’s call for local move-on laws to be introduced to tackle beggars.

They agreed to back council staff brokering a “multi-agency approach to dealing with the issue of people asking for money or food in the public domain”.