Tauranga City Council's bans on begging and rough sleeping in three defined parts of three central business districts across the city has been in place since April 1. Sandra Conchie explores whether the bylaw is working effectively to address the reasons why it was introduced and its impacts. She has spoken to retailers, shoppers, homeless advocates, the homeless, police and the council's regulatory compliance manager.
A Greerton shop owner says Tauranga's begging and rough sleeping bans have given shoppers and retailers "their village back".
Under the bylaw, introduced three months ago, the activities are banned within 5m of public entrances to retail shops and eateries in defined areas of Tauranga, Mount Maunganui and Greerton CBDs.
The new rules came about after business owners complained to the council that beggars and rough sleepers were causing significant issues.
Greerton Lotto owner Belinda Sands said the bylaw had made a "dramatic" difference.
"I feel we've got our village back again. While there are still a few rough sleepers and they can be a bit rowdy at times, they're certainly not causing the humbug or harassing people like was happening in the past," Sands said.
"This was my main concern and also some elderly people were scared to come down to the village to shop or do their other business."
Chadwick Rd Dairy's manager, who asked not to be named, said the bylaw had made a "marked difference" resulting in a lot more foot traffic coming.
"We have also had some growth in our sales. Before we had homeless intimidating people and some shoppers were too scared to even come into the village."
More than one Greerton shopper said the mood in the village had improved.
"We don't have to put up with the same poor behaviour we had to before, and a lot more people are willing to come into the village," one said.
Greerton Village Community Association Mainstreet manager Sally Benning said the bylaw combined with the retailers' stance has led to a "dramatic reduction" in issues.
However, across town, some Tauranga CBD retailers say the bylaw has had "no impact" in their area.
Mint Lertanantachai, owner of One Tree Bakery in Devonport Rd, said the bylaw had made "no difference" as homeless people were still causing issues in the Tauranga CBD.
Lertanantachai said a homeless man who regularly slept near the front entrance to his shop has had to be moved on several times.
"They know they're not allowed to or beg people for money but they keep coming back.
Sushi Queen store general manager Evan Ko said the situation was "basically the same".
Two homeless men rough sleeping in Devonport Rd said they had nowhere else go.
Bryan, 43, said he had been homeless for several years and was surviving on an invalid's benefit because of a brain injury and handouts from "generous people".
Jim, (not his real name), 37, said he had been living on the streets on and off for six years since being diagnosed with schizophrenia and was known to community mental health.
"I can understand why the bylaw was put in place, but not everyone is harassing people.
"I'm trying to stay under the radar and not cause any problems...It's really cool that people are generous when I ask for help. I'm just trying to survive and keep myself safe."
The Tauranga Housing Advocacy Trust has filed a legal challenge against the bylaw in the Tauranga High Court and council staff are working on a response. A trust spokesperson said the charity declined to comment at this time.
Simone Cuers, The People's Project Tauranga manager, said a "health and safety response" was required with wraparound support services for people who beg out of genuine need.
"Housing is a human right, and all people in Tauranga should be living in secure housing.
"We know from international research and experience that a punitive approach does not work - you simply cannot arrest our way out of the homelessness," Cuers said.
Tommy Wilson, from Tauranga's Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust, said he questioned why a judicial review was needed when the bylaw was "clearly working".
"Look what has happened in Greerton. Once people were given the correct information and the gold coins dried up, the problem has almost dried up in the village.
"You can only help people who want to be helped, and people need to stop supporting those who have other avenues of seeking support," Wilson said.
Barbara Dempsey, the council's regulatory and compliance general manager, said the council was taking an "educational approach" to enforcing the bylaw.
It was too soon to "meaningfully measure" its impact, she said.
Dempsey said since April 1, there has been 34 begging complaints and 93 about homelessness but no one had been prosecuted or issued an official warning.
"Council staff have followed up every complaint and inquiry, and have been visiting homeless people within our community to provide them with support and information.
"We cannot move people on from restricted areas as there is no statutory power to do so."
A Western Bay police spokesperson said police were visiting Tauranga CBD on a regular basis which resulted in arrests and enforcement action.