Groups working with the homeless in Tauranga are planning to take to the streets on Monday to protest the city council's proposed begging ban.
Begging and rough sleeping will be banned within 5m of any Tauranga retail or hospitality premises under a proposed council bylaw.
The council's community and culture committee this week voted 6-2 for the ban, against the advice of Tauranga City Council legal staff who said it could prove to be "unenforceable".
Tania Lewis-Rickard, director of food charity Kai Aroha, which feeds the homeless in Greerton every Friday evening, told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday that a hīkoi was planned for Monday.
"We need to be the voice for the voiceless, the strength for the weak."
She said homeless people were already stigmatised and were suffering from rejection and loss of mana and dignity.
"I have to do something. Our city's most vulnerable are already feeling isolated, disconnected. This hīkoi is going to happen."
Lewis-Rickard said the community march would start around Holy Trinity Church in central Tauranga at 1.30pm. It would travel down Devonport Rd, along The Strand and then around to the Willow St bus stop. A barbecue at the bus stop would follow.
She said it was for anyone who supported the city's homeless and impoverished.
"This is about identity, this is about humanity ... when something significant like this happens to a group of people they lose hope, so the community needs to do something to instil hope back into them and us all."
Lewis-Rickard said it was to be a peaceful hīkoi done in the right spirit.
One of the councillors who voted for the bylaw, Larry Baldock, said he thought the protestors were "getting too worked up".
"No one is going to use the bylaw to try to throw rough sleepers in jail or fine beggars," he said. "It's part of the strategy with a lot of initiatives to deal with the problem. The bylaw will be there to be used if necessary."
Baldock said no one had approached him in response to the ban.
"I've had no emails coming in. People understand it's a difficult problem to deal with.
"I will be open to the response to the consultation."
In an unscientific poll on the Bay of Plenty Times' Facebook page, 73 per cent of respondents said they supported the proposed begging ban, with just 27 per cent saying no.
The results were from a total vote count of 273 votes taken yesterday afternoon.
Tracey Carlton, one of the organisers of Milo Night, which helps the homeless in central Tauranga twice a week, said yesterday: "We will be backing Kai Aroha all the way with this hīkoi."
She expected a big turnout to the protest as "it's such an emotional issue".
"Many people are touched by it for very different reasons, right across the community."
Carlton said it was important to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by people living on the street this winter.
"We see them regularly, and they're cold, they're suffering. We're really seeing the stress."
Mayor Greg Brownless, who also voted for the ban, said the protesters had "missed a vital point".
"This is a last resort, they've been told this many times. This ban is the last thing we want to have to use," Brownless said.
"Do they [the protesters] want the city to be taken over by an increasing number of beggars?
"The fact is, there are a number of beggars for whom it seems to have become a business."
A spokeswoman for the Human Rights Commission said it would not be commenting on the bylaw.
Academic calls begging ban 'shocking'
A leading academic on homelessness has described Tauranga's proposed begging ban bylaw as "shocking".
Dr Kate Amore said it was an "out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to homelessness".
"Begging bans tend to make vulnerable people even more so by cutting off a source of income and forcing people into areas where few people are around if they need help."
Amore, from He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme at Otago University in Wellington, published a national study on homelessness in 2016. It studied housing deprivation in New Zealand between 2001 and 2013.
She said there was "so much evidence" about effective solutions in reducing homelessness and poverty – and a begging ban was not one of them.
"Bylaws such as the one proposed in Tauranga are inappropriate and ineffective ways to address issues of begging and rough sleeping," she told the Bay of Plenty Times this week.
"I find it quite shocking that any government, local or otherwise, would propose this kind of simplistic out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to homelessness at this time. [New Zealanders] want an effective response to this issue," Amore said.
"I would encourage the council to channel this energy into effective solutions."
- Felix Desmarais