City aims to get homeless off streets

By Eloise Gibson

Council officers are working on ways to stop the homeless sleeping rough on city streets.

The move was prompted by complaints from the public about mattresses on footpaths, puddles of urine and people behaving offensively, especially near Aotea Square in the central city.

Auckland City Council's community services committee has asked officers for ways to increase the council's ability to intervene.

Councillor Paul Goldsmith has proposed asking Parliament to widen police powers to allow them to move rough sleepers along.

He said it was frustrating the council could order people around in all sorts of ways, but could not do anything about the people sleeping on footpaths.

"At the moment the approach seems to be that we can't do anything.

"You can't just stick a cafe on the footpath, but it seems you can stick a mattress on the footpath and leave it there until 9.30 in the morning and make the place look a mess."

Mr Goldsmith said the Bill of Rights limited the council's actions.

"Maybe all we can do is ask Parliament as loudly and clearly as we can to bring in legislation that allows the police to do the job - picking people up and moving them somewhere else."

Another option was hiring security guards to patrol troubled spots, he said.

Auckland City Missioner Diane Robertson acknowledged there was problem with rough sleepers. She said she received a lot of complaints from people who felt unsafe, as well as shopkeepers who wanted people moved from their doorways.

But the first step to solving the problem was to give people somewhere to go.

"These are people who don't have anywhere to go and they're sleeping out in the wet and the cold," Ms Robertson said.

"If we had enough beds, and people used them, it would make a huge difference [to the number of rough sleepers]."

The mission plans to apply to Auckland City Council in November for resource consent to build an 80-bed facility.

Ms Robertson said other countries had provided long-term housing solutions and then legislated against vagrancy.

"We can't just move them along if there's nowhere to go."

Mr Goldsmith said the council would work with the City Mission in its push to get rough sleepers off the streets.

Council officers are expected to report back next month with their suggestions.

- NZ Herald

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