Rough sleeping and begging near retail premises at certain areas throughout the city, could become a thing of the past.
Tauranga City Council’s Community and Culture Committee have tentatively voted to ban begging and rough sleeping in any public space within 5m of retail premises in Greerton, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui CBDs.
The recommendation received a 5-5 vote by committee members at a meeting on Monday and was later pushed through by committee chairman Terry Molloy who made a casting vote.
A provision has also been made for the ban to be applied city-wide.
The changes are part of the draft Street Use and Public Place Bylaw which was proposed by Terry last November.
The stated purpose of the current Bylaw is to ensure; public health and safety is maintained; to protect the public from nuisances; minimise the potential for offensive behaviour; and to manage Public Places for the well-being and enjoyment of the public.
For the past year, council has investigated potential solutions. Between May and September 2018, council received 61 telephone calls relating to begging, of those 61 calls, 34 of them related to behaviour that caused concern.
During the same time period, 107 complaints were received regarding rough sleeping, of which 56 of these calls related to behaviour that caused concern.
Staff and security also recorded 293 sightings of beggars between May and September 2018, of those sightings five disturbances involving beggars were recorded.
Retailers were among many who indicated the need for the ban, based on the financial impact beggars are presenting to them as business owners and on the other hand, legal advice presented by Michael Sharp showed the bylaw could potentially breach the New Zealand Bill of Rights.
The committee’s most recent decision has prompted community organisations throughout Tauranga to look for their own solutions.
Members of Community Angels, a recently formed collective pushing for the establishment of a new women’s shelter in Tauranga, are fronting a community-led initiative to help support the Tauranga’s most vulnerable.
The group has been hosting Street Retreat, a drop-in centre held at Holy Trinity Church for the past three weeks.
Member Tracey Carlton says the drop-in centre is on a five-week trial basis.
“We are looking for practical daily solutions for how we can support our most vulnerable people and give them a space off the street; this is ours so far.
“The church has indicated if the trial goes well, we could potentially be having discussions about making it permanent and they are even thinking about putting a shower in.”
Tracey, who runs a tri-weekly meal for the city’s homeless population, says hygiene is one of the biggest issues facing them.
“If you ask our peeps, they always say to us ‘Aunty, what I would do for a shower though.’ So I’m over the moon because there’s a purpose behind this trial in that.”
The drop-in clinic provides a place to rest and respite, says Tracey.
“This is a place where our peeps can take a break from the street, to rest or chat, it provides a sense of community and a place of belonging.
“It’s a community response and the Vestry are delighted so far, all of the church members come along and they get in the mix,” says Tracey.
“The church wants to do its bit to help and our peeps are loving it, they’re playing cards and scrabble, of all things.
“There’s colouring in books, canvasses and paints, there’s a sewing machine where our peeps can mend or have their clothes mended. There’s kai available and toiletry care packs, all donated by the community.
“We have two Maori wardens and even they get in there and enjoy a game of chess themselves.”
She says the trial sessions have doubled since their launch.
“We started out with about nine people and now we’re up 25.
“A lot of our peeps come and they just want to have a siesta, which is a beautiful thing to see. There’s so much noise around them with the sewing machines and games and yet they feel so comfortable they are able to rest.”
Tracey says councillors Terry Molloy and Kelvin Clout attended Street Retreat on Wednesday.
“They stayed for two hours at least in the mix and told the peeps about the bylaw and what was happening. They actually faced our peeps which I was really proud about.”
The decision on adopting the new recommendation into the current bylaw will go up for a final vote at a full council meeting later this month.