The beggars on the streets of Auckland appear to be increasing at a furious pace. Today between the hours of noon and two they seemed to be on every wet and windy corner or strategically placed at every controlled crossing. There were the usuals, the old favourites who have been there for the last two or three years of course (all today with slightly pained expressions for obvious reasons) but they had been joined by an explosion of newcomers. I first caught sight of the latter as they congregated mid town looking as if they had recently emerged from a tour bus. They were equipped with begging signs and sleeping bags and were in raucous and cheerful mood. Why not? It was an adventure no doubt. Their chief gave instructions as to how they should proceed and conduct themselves from the comfort of his wheelchair and I watched curiously as they exchanged hugs and friendly punches on shoulders before dispersing in various directions holding firmly onto their bed rolls and begging equipment. They were each to operate independently, as sole proprietors you might say. As I made my way to the downtown wool shop for multi-coloured 4 ply sock wool and then back to the Library I passed a number of them sitting hunched in doorways trying to look as if they were old hands at this begging business. They waved their misspelled signs in an agitated manner, some of them calling out to passers by who for the most part studiously ignored them.
`Spare change darling?' from a hugely proportioned middle aged man who according to his PR was hungry.
`Spare cash Miss?' from what was obviously the youngest of the group, who clearly should have been at school. I resisted the urge to throw him a coin or two and ask him which school he went to. He was shivering. I felt a surge of compassion.
And as I waited to cross the road and head into the Library building itself I stumbled across a well dressed young beggar, possibly Chinese, with a neatly written sign (he was hungry too) and a new Nike cap proffered politely towards the lunchtime shoppers. He looked so very vulnerable.