The reasons why people beg or ask for money are complex. They include people who might:
- be ineligible for or waiting to receive income assistance or welfare payments (those aged under 18 years don't qualify)
- want to supplement income assistance or welfare payments
- suffer from a mental illness but cannot find an available hospital bed
- be supporting drug or gambling habits.
What can you do if asked for money
The City of Port Phillip recognises it can be confronting when asked for money by someone on the street.
You might wonder whether the person is in genuine need or if the money will be used for another purpose. It is often difficult to distinguish.
Begging is illegal under the Summary Offences Act and enforcement is the responsibility of the police.
If a person who is begging is acting aggressively, for example, is intoxicated, intimidating, violent or their behaviour is placing people at risk, you should report the matter to the police by phoning 000.
If a person is begging in a passive, non-threatening and non-violent manner and you want to help connect them with appropriate services, the St Kilda Crisis Centre at 29 Grey Street St Kilda is the most accessible starting point:
A study on begging
Research carried out in 2010 by the Homeless Person's Legal Clinic in the Melbourne CBD showed:
- over 50 per cent of people begging had a mental illness
- homelessness was experienced by 90 per cent
- there was 735 people who were long-term unemployed
- family or domestic violence was experienced by 23 per cent
The report We Want Change found there was no evidence of gangs or groups systematically begging (long-term police data was consistent with these findings).
Most people begging were seeking small amounts of money to pay for immediate needs such as food, cigarettes, accommodation, alcohol or drugs. Most were on government benefits or pensions and many were absolutely homeless.
There was a clear association between begging and substance abuse, homelessness and poverty. There was no evidence of middle-class young adults begging for thrills or professional beggars from affluent suburbs.
The case studies showed that for most people begging occurred when other options were exhausted, and many found it demeaning and frustrating. It was seen as preferable compared to other illegal activities such as drug dealing, theft and prostitution.