Salvos Chief ‘Physically Sick’ At Alleged Fake Beggars In Melbourne
Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle told The Project he was worried Australians would become "cynical" towards the homeless, following the arrest of tourists pretending to be beggars in Melbourne.
Six elderly Chinese tourists are among seven people charged with begging and possessing suspected proceeds of crime after being arrested with about $1000 cash in the city's streets this week.
Nottle, who has been helping Melbourne's homeless for 17 years, said he was "physically sick" that people would take advantage of the goodwill of Australians.
"We've never, ever seen anything like this," he told The Project.
"When you walk around the city, you could see the coordination of what was taking place.
"People on street corners dressed the same way, behaving in the same manner. It was clearly organised and coordinated."
The operation was "frustrating" said Nottle, as there is concern Australians will become cynical towards the homeless and less willing to help.
"I think it's really important that we take the opportunity to actually have a conversation with people that are homeless, that are rough sleeping, that are really vulnerable," he said.
"If you feel comfortable, sit down and hear their story.
"I think, when you hear that, then cynicism, negativity, just disappears very, very quickly."
The tourists are thought to be part of a larger operation. Police allege they pretended to be homeless so they could get money and send it overseas.
"They're not vulnerable people. They've got access to housing and they're just taking advantage and deceiving the good people of Melbourne," Acting Inspector Giovanni Travaglini told reporters on Friday.
The "professional beggars" had been caught with receipts showing money collected had been converted into Chinese currency, he added.
All had been referred to the Salvation Army but only one was interested in getting help.
Lord Major Sally Capp asked that beggars not be given money but instead referred to service providers.
The seventh person arrested was not necessarily linked to the Chinese group, police said.
All seven people charged are not in custody but have been referred to federal police and Australian Border Force.
Begging is illegal in Melbourne.