THE CATHOLIC CHURCH in Perth’s social justice body says plans to make begging a crime in the City of Perth are “very concerning” and “demonises” the poorest members of society.
Director of the Archdiocese’s Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO) Carol Mitchell told The Record she was concerned about Perth City Council’s push to criminalise social disadvantage.
“When we consider that many are homeless or on the streets due to family dysfunction, including violence or addictions, then surely they need our help more than our judgement,” she said.
“Where is the compassion? Where is the sense of community?
“It seems to me that rather than recognising that we have community members who are really struggling and ‘doing it tough’ and they need our support, increasingly we have some community leaders wanting to demonise them.”
Mrs Mitchell’s comments come after the PCC last week voted to present laws to the State’s Premier and Police Minister requesting the re-introduction of a law to make begging in the city an offence.
City of Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi has stated there has been an increase in the number of “professional” beggars in the city; and that, with Australia’s social welfare system, there is no need for people to be begging for money.
But Mrs Mitchell said there were better solutions to the problem.
“Such people need to be directed to appropriate services so professionals – government and non-government – can determine whether their need is real,” she said.
“I know crisis services are already stretched, including government agencies, but isn’t that where we need to re-direct our focus and our priorities?
“I believe we need a paradigm shift so we look at ways we can strengthen our communities, beginning with recognising the dignity of each community member.”
Mrs Mitchell said the PCC was missing out on an opportunity to build a sense of belonging and community for all members of society.
“Maybe some of us need to be reminded that given certain circumstances, such as losing a job or a loved one, coupled with mental health challenges and financial hardship, we could be the one who feels the need to beg,” she said.
Begging is a crime in several Australian States, including Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia. In 2004, laws against begging were repealed in WA.