CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE
In the first of a two-part series, Local Focus journalist Hunter Calder investigates moves by businesses to protect themselves and customers from a growing unkempt and unsavoury problem.
Paula Gwilliams has been sleeping rough on the streets of Hamilton and Tauranga for the past eight years.
"It was cold, it was hard, I've been slapped, but we got used to it," the 47-year-old said.
She and her partner Adrian are among a growing number of beggars and homeless people across the regions of New Zealand.
Alleyways, abandoned buildings, churches and toilets are just some of the places Gwilliams has spent the night.
Gateway Church on Victoria St in Hamilton is one of the safer places she remembers, sleeping with her partner and another friend under the verandah protected from wind and rain.
"It's a safe memory, like in the sense that was one of the safe places we could be," she says. "I could lie there quite comfortably, I didn't have to curl up and, with the mattresses down, it was soft."
When Gwilliams became homeless she was too ashamed to beg and ask for food or money from the public.
But that changed. "I started to beg because I would get hungry."
She never felt comfortable asking for money so she wrote a sign. "I offered to work, I wanted to work. I got a few jobs too," Gwilliams said.
However, Gwilliams and other homeless people are not welcome in many parts of Hamilton, such as Five Cross Roads, where businesses say they are fed up with beggars.
Some businesses have trespassed homeless people from the area.
Goldstar Bakery owner Tony Sea said about a dozen people have been trespassed but they occasionally returned and left rubbish and bedding in front of the shops.
"Some of them wear dirty clothes and smell, and sometimes they don't just sit outside - they went inside and try to ask for change and annoy customers," Sea said.
A dozen beggars were trespassed after a number of complaints from business owners about threatening and intimidating behaviour by people demanding money of customers. They also accused beggars of defecating in nearby doorways causing customers to avoid the shops altogether.
Gwilliams blames the police for her being trespassed and pushed from one part of Hamilton to another.
"We got stopped by a cop in town actually. He said 'we haven't seen you in a town for a while', because most of the cops know us," she says.
Her partner Adrian told the officer: "Awwww I've been out at Five Cross Roads roads but I've been trespassed from there."
She says the police rolled their eyes and said: "He just pushes it out of his suburb so he doesn't have to deal with it."
Unfortunately, trespassing Gwilliams and her partner didn't actually stop them being homeless, it just moved them to another part of the city.
"When we were trespassed from Five Cross Roads we were like 'aww we will just go to Heaphy Terrace'," Gwilliams said.
But again they were trespassed.
Adding to their problems, moving around the city made it harder for support services to find them.
Enderley resident Annie Williams says she had heard about the homeless people being trespassed and she wanted to help. "I mean where are they? Where have they gone?"
She doesn't go empty-handed when she went looking for them.
"When you go looking for people like that and you know that most of them would be your own people, our way is that we take kai," Williams said.
"We just don't turn up empty-handed so I had to find kai first and so, of course, that's how I fell over Kaivolution."
Kaivolution rescued food destined for landfill and distributed it to community organisations - and provided Williams the means to help.
"Normally a couple of the young boys down on the river banks would see my vehicle going across the Whitiroa bridge and that was the signal that I was heading to Kaivolution to get the kai," she said.
"On the way back, I would see them there standing on this particular bank, standing there waiting.
"So I would do the swing around and pull up on the grass and it was very fast - they would open the boot and grab as many bags as they wanted to get down to the bank."
But it's been more than a month since Williams has seen the boys from "down by the river" and she's worried about where they've gone because she can't find them on the streets.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Samaritans 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
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