RWC homeless shakeup

By Kieran Nash

Some of Auckland's homess under the Hobson St flyover. Photo / Doug Sherring
Some of Auckland's homess under the Hobson St flyover. Photo / Doug Sherring

Auckland Council has paid for security guards to "ensure the safety" of homeless people during the Rugby World Cup, sparking political accusations they're about to be cleaned off the streets.

Two months out from the Cup's opening, First Security has been paid $15,000 to deal with homeless people during the tournament.

And the council has booked beds at Lifewise's night shelter for foreign tournament-goers who are expected to be unable to find accommodation during the Cup.

The old Auckland City Council was criticised in 1999 for moving along homeless people from Auckland Domain for the Apec summit.

Green MP Gareth Hughes has been told the security company would accompany police and twice daily "sweep" homeless from Queen St in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup.

"The focus should be on support for the homeless, not just moving them on," said the party's housing spokesman. "The Rugby World Cup shouldn't be an excuse to 'hide' our homeless problem."

Hughes said he was told of the issue by a homelessness support officer: "I'm worried the motivation is to clean them off the streets as part of Auckland's image promotion."

But Auckland Council's Rugby World Cup spokesman Simon Roche refused to provide detail on what the security guards would be asked to do. Documents say they will "ensure the safety and amenity" of the city's homeless people.

Roche would not arrange an interview with staff and provided only limited information in an email.

He confirmed there was a budget of $20,000 of which $15,000 was for security guards to provide support to homeless during the Cup.

"The main area of support is to ensure their safety and amenity during the tournament," he said in an email. "It is not to get them off the street but to ensure that RWC 2011 activity does not adversely affect them."

The council's role was to ensure safety for all parties including homeless people, he said, and that included advising homeless people where they could find support such as food and shelter.

First Security general manager Mike Rutherford would not comment without clearing it with the council first.

Councillor Cathy Casey, who is responsible for issues around homelessness, said: "I'm quite astounded if it's happening. It's not meant to be that at all." Lifewise service manager Corie Haddock said the council had put money towards providing beds in its night shelter for those made homeless during the Cup.

Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development is the council organisation responsible for Rugby World Cup implementation. Chairman David McConnell said: "Sometimes with these events you're talking about a lot of people in the city so you're concerned about safety with these issues."

- Herald on Sunday

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