Carmen is a social issues and rural reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Homelessness complaints lead to steering group

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Tauranga City Council has received about 100 official complaints and 100 to 150 calls from residents reporting homeless people living in tents, under bridges sleeping in cars and at bus stops - in 10 months.

Data shows it received the information from July 2015 to April 2016, a huge spike from the 50 official complaints and 60 estimated calls to bylaws officers between July 2014 and June 2015.

The situation had prompted the council to adapt a multi-agency approach, facilitate workshops and establish a steering group to combat the problem.

Customer service manager Margaret Batchelar said Blake Park, the green space around Takitimu Drive/Chapel St, and the green space along Turret Rd were the areas that were most complained about.

"We have also received calls about people camped by Sulphur Point, under the bridges off the Domain."

Homelessness was by no means a "new" issue, it "is something we are seeing more of in Tauranga", she said.

The council had no specific bylaws relating to homeless people but there was a Freedom Camping Bylaw and the Street Use and Public Places Bylaw. "As landowners, we do have the option to issue a trespass notice, but this is something we would only turn to as a last resort.

"Trespassing a homeless person from one place, only for them to become a potential issue elsewhere, does little to solve the greater issue."

The Bay of Plenty Times has requested the number of trespass notices issued by council under the Official Information Act.

Council bylaw staff visited every homeless situation it received a complaint or phone call about, she said.

"We work closely with other organisations to put people in touch with the right agencies or authorities to give them the wider assistance they often need in these situations," she said.

Deputy mayor Kelvin Clout said council was one of a number of community organisations in Tauranga working together to see how "we can best address homelessness and emergency housing needs".

A successful approach to homelessness required commitment, partnership and integration - across government sectors such as housing, health, employment and justice, and between service providers and the community, Mr Clout said.

"Our role as council is to facilitate the discussion, so these agencies can pool their resources and provide a co-ordinated response to this growing social issue."

A steering group had been established and would meet for the first time this week.

Organisations that were either working in, or interested in, housing and homelessness and the various associated issues included the New Zealand Police, the district health board, the night shelter, Under the Stars, various government agencies, churches and other community groups, he said.

"The exact role and purpose of the homelessness steering group will be finalised by the group itself, and it is likely that they will focus on understanding the issues around homelessness and identifying needs."

Mr Clout said homelessness was a complicated social issue and not always visible.

"There is often a misconception that people choose to be homeless. However, those who work with homeless people say that most want to be living in their own home."

Long-term, the council was responding to housing pressures by aggressively promoting the development of special housing areas, reviewing its current City Plan to facilitate intensification, and expanding the city/urban limits through SmartGrowth, he said.

Statistics revealed that as of April 30, 2016, there was capacity for 9445 homes zoned for residential development at Bethlehem, Pyes Pa, Pyes Pa West (The Lakes), Ohauiti, Welcome Bay, and Papamoa (Wairakei).

What is homelessness?

It encompasses not only people living on the streets, but also those who are homeless due to a number of issues including lack of money, the high cost of rental accommodation (housing affordability), and social issues preventing them from being able to access rental accommodation.

These 'hidden homeless' make up the vast majority of homeless people in Tauranga - the visible 'rough sleepers' are only a small part of the wider issue.

The term 'homeless' also applies to people who have no security in their housing: they might be staying in night shelters, backpackers or boarding houses.

People living in unsuitable housing are also considered to be homeless. They could be living in a garage or sleep out without electricity or water, or 'couch surfing' - moving between friends or family members, with no fixed address of their own.

- Deputy mayor Kelvin Clout

- Bay of Plenty Times

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