The Auckland City Council is looking at introducing a bylaw to force homeless people off Queen St and other central-city streets.
The bylaw will address loitering, sleeping in doorways and begging by 90 or so homeless people who live rough within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower.
Citizens & Ratepayers councillors voted at yesterday's community services committee meeting to spend $50,000 on developing the bylaw to manage homeless issues.
The prospect of the bylaw infuriated City Vision-Labour councillors, who accused C&R of creating a "right-wing version of nanny state" to punish and alienate homeless people.
And in a rare public disagreement with C&R, Mayor John Banks later questioned the value of a bylaw and called first for a united approach between Government agencies, the voluntary sector and others to deal with the complex social issues.
The police and City Missioner Diane Robertson have also raised questions about the bylaw, which is being driven by C&R councillor and community services chairman Paul Goldsmith.
In September, Mr Goldsmith asked officers to look seriously at getting homeless people off the streets following complaints from the public about mattresses on footpaths, puddles of urine and people behaving offensively.
Mr Goldsmith yesterday said the bylaw was not punitive or about demonising the homeless. The council would continue focusing with the police, Auckland City Mission and others on a "homeless action plan" to address and reduce the level of homelessness in the city.
"But we still have the problem of how do we deal with someone who lies on a mattress in Queen St, even in the middle of the morning," the councillor said.
Mr Goldsmith said the bylaw would provide the ability to ask somebody to move on, but there was no suggestion of scooping people up and putting them in jail. He did not know who would enforce the bylaw.
Senior council officer Dr Jill McPherson said the bylaw would be developed with the help of lawyers.
It would go through a process of public consultation and be open to appeal. A court would have to appoint the police to enforce the bylaw because it was a civil law, she said.
Superintendent Brett England, of Auckland City police, said most of the problems with homeless people were of a social nature, but there was a small criminal element.
Mr England said the police had laws to deal with criminal acts, such as obstruction of the footpath or begging.
People sleeping in doorways was a grey area because it was private property and the public had right of access.
The police needed authority to move people, but in most cases after speaking with them, they moved on, he said.
Mr England said homelessness was a huge issue and until he saw a bylaw, "I wouldn't have a clue if it would help us or not".
Diane Robertson said the homeless action plan was making progress towards finding long-term accommodation, including the inner-city Mission in the City project with 80 apartments for the homeless.
She said a bylaw aimed at vagrancy, loitering and begging had some uses dealing with criminal behaviour but came with big disadvantages of punitively dealing with homeless people.
"I would be hopeful that the council are going to consult with groups like ourselves that work with people who are marginalised and may sleep in doorways to find out if there are other ways of dealing with it rather than making it criminal behaviour.
"A bylaw should be used for criminal behaviour rather than a social need."