A day centre helping homeless people in Whangārei has made the issue more visible but the problem existed in the city previously, says the centre manager.

Rough sleepers and homeless people have used the Open Arms centre since it opened last November but those patrolling the streets reported an "exponential increase" in the number of homelessness incidents.

Open Arms manager Sam Cassidy said the centre had given those less fortunate or in crisis a place to go for help and the demand for their services was surprising.

Not being able to find accommodation was the main concern and was an issue that existed before the centre opened.


"Now there is a facility they do become more visible but they were always out there in our community. There are a lot more people out there with the same issues than we are seeing coming through the doors here," Cassidy said.

A report presented to the Whangārei District Council's community development committee in March revealed an analysis of references to homelessness since January 2014 showed an "exponential increase" in 2019.

Cassidy said they helped people from Wellington, Kaitaia and a few from Auckland but most of the regular users were from Whangārei.

The centre provided food, facilities to wash clothes and showers. Links to other services were also provided including emergency housing, healthcare and Work and Income.

Cassidy said while the centre was not responsible for the behaviour outside the centre they had the ability to talk to people, who often had complex issues including mental health and drug and alcohol addictions, and point them in the right direction for help.

The report stated the increase may be related to the opening of a day centre in November 2018.

General manager of community services for the Whangārei District Council Sandra Boardman said of the 26 incidents recorded in January by City Safe officers out on the streets, most incidents were for people sleeping under bridges, under the cover of buildings including Reyburn House, Marina Office, Mania House and at the Men's Shed at the old Railway Station.

There was also a report of them sleeping in tents on a grass verge in Robert St outside Open Arms.

A sleeping place on Roberts St made out of a wooden pallet and cardboard boxes. Photo/ File
A sleeping place on Roberts St made out of a wooden pallet and cardboard boxes. Photo/ File

The report covered incidents up to February 11 and there had already been 14 reports made, five of which were for breaches of the liquor ban or drunk people, two involved members of the public being threatened or harassed.

Boardman said a holistic approach was being taken with the homeless and they were referring people to the Open Arms day centre to obtain the appropriate social service support.

"Open Arms provides a facility that wasn't there before so people can have a shower, wash their clothes and have a meal ... that's got to be a good thing."

She said undoubtedly the increase in homeless reports had coincided with opening of the centre but the rise could have been a "blip" rather than a trend.

Cassidy said it was unclear from the report but suspected a few of the same people would account for a bulk of the incidents.

Some people using the centre had been able to find accommodation and others had found work picking kumara and kiwifruit.

Police had encountered homeless people in and around the streets but most incidents had involved a breach of the liquor ban and not serious crimes, Acting Senior Sergeant James Calvert said.

Carol Peters, who helped set up the day centre, said the aim was to create an inclusive society for all citizens because it was beneficial for Whangārei.

"They are citizens of Whangārei and they have rights like every one else."