Liz Kite has spent more than five years working alongside homeless people.

"It's easy to point the finger but it's inhumane to make a judgement without getting to know these people and without talking to people on the ground level," she said.

Kite established Under the Stars, a non-profit organisation which feeds Tauranga's homeless every Saturday night.

And she's furious about a new bylaw taking effect this week which prohibits sleeping rough within 5m of shops and begging within 5m of a shop entrance in the CBD, Greerton and Mount Maunganui.

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"The problem is, they sleep in the entrance of doorways because it's lighted, it's shelter from the storm," she said.

"I remember one guy saying, 'there's a storm coming, what are we going to do, where are we going to go? Maybe we should do something to get locked up because it's going to be safer'."

Advocate Liz Kite and former rough sleeper Leithana Tawhai. Photo / Shilo Kino
Advocate Liz Kite and former rough sleeper Leithana Tawhai. Photo / Shilo Kino

Leithana Tawhai was once homeless, addicted to synthetic cannabis and living on the streets.

"I felt like I was stuck out there, doing the same old stuff, going around in circles," she said. "Until I met Liz Kite. She actually gave me her loving hand and helped me with my struggle with drugs."

While Tawhai has managed to turn her life around, she's worried the new bylaw may make life even harder for those living rough.

"When I was on the streets, I used to go to little primary schools, and sleep at their playgrounds, or go by the shops or broken homes that we were not even supposed to be in. But mostly outside the shops for food... hopefully there are lovely people out there who will give food."

Deputy Mayor Kelvin Clout says the purpose of the bylaw was to protect retail stores, after claims some beggars were acting aggressively towards shoppers.

"They're going about their lawful business trying to make a decent living for themself and their family, and the presence of rough sleepers and beggars really negatively impacts on their business," he said. "The bylaw is just giving them some support. "

Clout said the Tauranga City Council could not issue a fine to someone begging or rough sleeping, with bylaw officers instead educating individuals on the new law.

Kelvin Clout deputy mayor says the presence of rough sleepers and beggars impacts on businesses. Photo / File
Kelvin Clout deputy mayor says the presence of rough sleepers and beggars impacts on businesses. Photo / File

"The impression is we are going to hand out $500 fines to people we find begging or rough sleeping. That's certainly not our intention. We're not legally allowed to dish out a fine, but what we can do is ask people to move on."

He also said there were plenty of services homeless people could go to, such as Āwhina House, the city's first emergency shelter for homeless women opening next week.

But Kite said it was not good enough.

"It would have been good if the council came and spoke to people like me, or Kai Aroha, or someone who's dealing with these people on the streets, or the mental health system. There needs to be a connection."

Kite said she wouldn't actively fight the ban, but she would continue to advocate for the homeless.

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