Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Watch: Kiwi grandmother brings gifts to the homeless in Auckland

Bringing little gifts for the homeless in the Auckland CBD is a Kiwi grandmother's way of showing her grandchildren how lucky they are.

Chris Austin, 70, from Whangaparaoa, was spotted by the Herald yesterday distributing gloves and beanies she had knitted to rough sleepers on Queen St with her two granddaughters - Tiffany Peace, 10, and Xanthee Austin, 8.

According to the most recent rough sleeper count by the Auckland City Mission, there were 147 people sleeping rough in the CBD.

In the last financial year, the mission had made contact with 303 new rough sleepers across Auckland, and housed 132 people.

"It's good for them to see there's lots of people who are less fortunate, and that little things that we do can help," said Ms Austin, who is with the Salvation Army.

"I just feel really sad ... some of them have chosen to live on the streets, but their choices may be really valid.

"For one man, it was because his wife died and he can't bear to be in the house, some of them escape abuse and of course there are the addicts, who have lost everything."

Ms Austin said she never gave money, because "you don't know where it's going to end up", but things the homeless needed to survive on the streets.

Yesterday, she was handing out items that she had knitted but sometimes she would give them food items.

"Most of them wouldn't have chosen to be in such a lifestyle given half the chance, and I don't think it's fair for them to be put in a position where they can't survive," Ms Austin said.

One rough sleeper, who gave his name as Terrible, got a pair of knitted gloves and described Ms Austin as a "saint".

"Often people just see us as trash, but once in a while, there'll be someone who makes us feel there's still good in this world," he said.

Sergeant Roy Simpson of Auckland Central Police said the police will be carrying out a "role playing" initiative next week to show Asians that it was all right to walk away from beggars.

Auckland homeless people seeking booze, food, cash and cigarettes appear to be targeting Asians in the city because of their generosity.

The Herald reported last week that the issue came to a boil when a group of rough-sleepers entered Esquires, a cafe in the CBD, and demanded smokes and money from the mainly Chinese and Korean customers.

"Sometimes, the Asian community think it's being rude, but it's not being rude to walk away," Mr Simpson said.

"You keep hold of your purse, and you just say quite nicely 'not today, thank you very much' and carry on walking."

Several central city businesses and shoppers have blamed rough sleepers and beggars for thefts, break-ins and aggressive behaviour.

Jacki Richardson, Auckland City Mission acting chief executive, said it was wrong to equate beggars with rough sleepers and the homeless.

"The sad reality is that life for rough sleepers is already incredibly difficult and the last thing these people need is to be wrongly accused of antisocial activity simply because they live their lives in public spaces," Ms Richardson said.

"It's important not to push blame for intimidating or antisocial behaviour onto an already highly vulnerable group of people."

She said the mission did not encourage begging, and many rough sleepers did not beg.

"In order to help Auckland's most vulnerable residents move forward with their lives in a positive way, it's vital that we as a community do not condemn them based on the actions of a few, often unrelated individuals."

James Crow, founder of Gimme Shelter, said rough sleeping homeless and beggars had become more prevalent in the last 12 months.

But, he said, the issues were not always combined and that it was "counterproductive and stigmatising" to combine them.

"Very few people living on the street wish to be there and also very few beggars want to be begging...for many this is a last resort" said Mr Crow, who is also co-founder of Tommy and James, which produces the dairy-free Nice Blocks range.

He believed the root cause was a lack of policy around resolving homelessness, and had last week launched a crowdfunding campaign to help end homelessness.

The PledgeMe campaign is aiming to raise $30,000 to create a mobile phone app and develop a survey to understand the size of the issue.

- NZ Herald

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