Complaints about beggars in the Tauranga CBD have declined in the last two years, but people are being reminded to not to give them money.
“I know some of these guys out there begging and they could be in housing,” says Tauranga Moana Nightshelter manager Annamarie Angus.
“And they could be here with us, but they earn a lot of money. It's a real game changer.”
People have offered the beggars to pay for a night in the shelter instead of cash and it's been generally refused, says Annamarie.
“We need to be smart about how we are trying to help people.
“People get benefits even when they have got no address now. What do they need extra money for if they are not paying rent or anything else like that?'
If the money is spent on substances and alcohol, then the result of people's generosity is injuries, the treatment of which backs up the hospital emergency department, and mental health issues that also add to the load being paid for through the DHB.
“While addiction is an illness, it won't be managed if we keep giving people money to keep them on the street.”
The night shelter costs customers $15 a night and for that they get food, a place to sleep and a place to wash their clothes.
“They are going to be that much healthier the next day,” says Annamarie.
“They have had good sleep, they have been warm, they have got clean clothes they have had good food – and they might go off the next day and use or whatever, and they think ‘Oh it would be quite nice to have another night like that'.
“So that starts that engagement again. We've seen it happen all the time over the last three years. But if it's too good for people out there, then why will they do that.”
Many of Tauranga's city centre beggars are not homeless, nor are they completely destitute, says Annamarie.
For people who do want to support the homeless, she says sponsoring a bed/night at the nightshelter will be more useful in terms of engaging people with longer term supports and assistance.
If people truly don't have an income, once engaged with the shelter these matters can be resolved.
“Our community is very mindful of the housing crisis we are a very compassionate lot. We need to be careful that we help in the right way for the long term and a possible life off the street.
“We want to help people but if we encourage them to stay on the street earning the begging buck, it makes it very difficult.”
The nightshelter permanently housed four men off the streets in the last two weeks. Sometimes they get contacted by businesses in town and the nightshelter gets involved.
“Sometimes they are not Tauranga people, they have just been caught here for some reason.”
Begging is not illegal in Tauranga.
In the last two years, Tauranga City council has received 20 complaints about beggars, and 99 complaints regarding apparently homeless people in general.
Begging related complaints include 22 for anti-social behaviour, one for alcohol. There were 26 involving litter, three for faeces, five for urine, and two for the smell of faeces.
There were four complaints for selling puppies, one complaint about dog urine, and 17 complaints about homeless people in vehicles.
“Most of the complaints come from businesses, although some complainants prefer to remain anonymous,” says Tauranga City Council parking and bylaws acting team leader Steven Trafford.
“Complaints have declined recently, particularly in the Devonport Road area, as people have begun to move into the vacant shopfronts.
“There tend to be more incidents over the winter months, concentrated in the CBD. Colder temperatures tend to bring people closer to town for food/shelter options and in the summer months they tend to head out to less high-profile sites such as parks and reserves.”