When my mates ask me "am I winning with the homeless here in Tauranga Moana?" my reply is always "I'm not, but we are".
"What's the diff, they are all desperate, poor buggers who need a break eh, bro" they will say.
Yes and no is my answer after spending five years on the front line, and learning what a rough sleeper is and how is he or she different from a genuine homeless, a streetie or a beggar, who now have come under the spotlight with the new bylaw kicking in on April 1.
The push back from the uninformed but well-meaning has been as expected - very vocal.
A bylaw to ban begging is inhumane according to those who believe it is akin to asking the homeless to go hungry.
Firstly hunger is not the motive for begging so let's get that one out in the open.
Reality and the perception of poverty can paint a sad and sorry picture, if the artist has learned to draw the silver lining of sympathy into their storyline, and many of the lost who beg have mastered the art of soaking up sympathy.
Gas for a tangi, bus fare for a job and kai for an empty puku are good guarantees for a few gold coins.
Well, that was until the word of the proposed bylaw hit the streets and the gold coins dried up.
Day in and day out my staff have watched with sadness kai offered in kindness being thrown away, mostly because you can't roll it up and smoke it or drink it from a Cody's can.
In our experience the genuine who go hungry - so their kids can sleep warm and safe, never hold their hands out for a free feed.
Mothers with mana are who we choose to help and not so much men who have disconnected from their whanau and support networks.
In my view, simply finding homes for rough sleepers in Tauranga is not the solution if the wider issues that surround homelessness are not addressed.
Some people who have been living on the streets flourish when given a home.
We see it all the time, and it motivates us like nothing else, to keep going when the tank is on empty, and the line of the desperate knocking on our door grows longer as winter comes closer.
However simply placing rough sleepers into homes, would, in my view, be a waste of an already precious resource.
For many of them, the very reason they are out on the streets is that they have failed to live up to their part of the bargain of being a good tenant.
Many have pinged from one agency to the next until they have used up all their compassion credits and ended up on the street.
Until we can understand the difference between a homeless, a streetie and a beggar and direct our kindness strategically, the situation will compound and get worse.
And let's be very clear the downtown CBD has a darkness that is getting darker as beggars get more desperate.
Gold coins and guilt have been replaced by another currency called synthetics.
This should be of far greater concern than where the beggars - some of whom, I believe, are fuelling their habits with sympathy from well-meaning members of the public, are going to sleep tonight.
The good news - if we can call it that, is we are not alone.
International statistics mirror the same as our own here in the land of the long line of homeless street dwellers.
More than 90 per cent of street beggars have mental health and addiction problems.
What the bylaw korero has done is start an honest conversation about the reality of rough sleeping. Who is hungry, who has a habit and who deserves a house?
Here at Te Tuinga Whanau support services we have identified where our time and resources are best spent.
If we had more houses given to our trust, they would go to mums and their kids who want help for the right reasons and now more than ever with winter fast approaching.
Sure there are genuine street dwellers or streeties who have existed for 10 and 20 years, rough sleeping and relying on their meds and social worker to see them through life's challenges.
However, we cannot cast them into the same category as street beggars.
Until we can shift from sympathy to empathy where our kindness is strategically directed for the best possible outcome, we will continue to see misguided campaigns by well-meaning people to support the beggars.
In my opinion, the bylaw has already achieved its original intention, and that is to raise the awareness of what is happening on our city streets.
Now the honest conversation can start about the solutions.
For many of us, they can only be found in the empathetic understanding of our communities, who want to help but don't quite know how.
Perhaps it is time to turn off the sympathy tap and turn on the ear of empathy.
This is not about an inhumane bylaw or a beggar.
It's about bringing the lost out into the light not pushing them back into the shadows.
It's about doing things differently for a different outcome from the one we have now.
Tommy Kapai Wilson is a local writer and best selling author. He first started working for the Bay of Plenty Times as a paperboy in 1966 and has been a columnist for 15 years. Tommy is currently the executive director of Te Tuinga Wha¯nau, a social service agency committed to the needs of the community. email@example.com