As I'm approaching the woman in the green jacket, she says hello and politely asks for $4.

Her name is Cleo, and she is sitting on a park bench outside Greerton Hall.

Next to her sits Wednesday's edition of the Bay of Plenty Times and clearly visible is the article on pages two and three.

It is about Tauranga City Council's proposed begging and rough sleeping ban and how those two things will be banned within 5m of any retail or hospitality premises under a proposed bylaw.


On Tuesday, the council's community and culture committee voted 6-2 for the ban, meaning it will be included in the draft Street Use and Public Places Bylaw, which will go out for consultation later this year.

After apologetically declining Cleo's request, I introduce myself as a reporter for that same newspaper and explain that I'm working on a story about the proposed ban.

I ask her if she is living on the streets at the moment.

"Noooo," she replies quickly in a surprised tone. "I've got a roof over my head, love."

Cleo says she is in Greerton for the day; she comes here every week – usually on a Friday and Saturday.

She says she is on the benefit and lives at a rest home in Pyes Pa.

"Meant to be for old people, really, but [they] had me in because they didn't want me on the streets with all my stuff."

Cleo says she has spent time living on the street in Auckland before she moved back home to Opotiki and then Greerton and finally Pyes Pa.


"This is my hometown. I've got mates here," she says.

I mention her asking me for money a little earlier.

"Well, that's not begging, I'm only asking, love," Cleo says with a laugh.

Can you explain why you ask, I say, why you need the money?

"I use it for a cup of tea, babe, I always have a cup of tea all the time. Or a doughnut. That's all I do, that's it, I don't do anything else. And I thank them for that."

At that very moment, a man walks past us.

"Kia ora, bro," Cleo says to him in a genuinely friendly tone.

Silence. The man doesn't respond or even look our way.

"What a snobby thing," she says quietly.

Cleo says she is not given money all the time. "Just now and again."

She says she often sees a group begging persistently in Greerton.

"I watch them. I sit down, and I watch them. And it's not a very good thing, babe.

"The trouble with them ... they should get a job or go on the benefit.

"I can see what they're doing, and it's putting me right off. When I go up and ask someone, a nice person, to give me four dollars to get me a cup of tea or a doughnut, some people go and get me a feed."

Cleo says that group of beggars even ask her for money for smokes.

"And I say no, it's got to last me, to keep me going."

All of a sudden Cleo greets, with plenty of enthusiasm and noise, another woman walking past. Cleo asks for and gets a hug.

She introduces the woman to me and then asks her if she has a smoke.

Her name is Dee, she is 17 and has lived in Greerton for about a year.

She says she is friends with homeless people in the city.

"I used to be homeless myself, so I know how it feels.

"I think that they should make a homeless shelter for Greerton and the city."

Another woman walking past overhears that suggestion and shouts out that she agrees.

I ask if she can join in the conversation as well.

"Hey, you haven't finished with me yet," Cleo says.

The woman, Tracey, 40, walks back over to us.

"Hey babe, you got a cigarette?" Cleo asks her. Again no luck.

Tracey says she used to live in Greerton and was homeless herself.

Now she lives in a house in Ōmokoroa after working through some "hard steps".

She says the proposed council ban is "rubbish".

"The homeless do need somewhere. I'm all for the homeless – been there, done that."

Cleo agrees with the new shelter idea and says the proposed ban is not going to help and is not going to do the homeless any good.

"They've got nowhere to go ... they're homeless; they've got no family, just the ones on the streets."

I leave Cleo sitting on the bench and continue down Cameron Rd towards the shops but not before getting a hug goodbye.

Read more: The Big Read: Milo Night, compassion on the streets of Tauranga

Greerton Village shops on Cameron Rd. Photo / Andrew Warner
Greerton Village shops on Cameron Rd. Photo / Andrew Warner

It is a mostly clear and sunny day, and people are filtering in and out of shops, cafes and other food outlets. It's just about lunchtime.

Cars are crawling along Cameron Rd at Greerton Village thanks to major roadworks.

I enter Greerton Lotto.

Belinda Sands has owned the store for 16 years.

"I'm pleased that it's been passed," she says of the proposed ban.

Her two dogs are staring at me from behind the counter as though they are listening as well.

Belinda says the problem in Greerton isn't, in her view, with true beggars.

"The people we have out here begging are opportunists that are taking advantage of peoples' kindness."

I ask her if she thinks the ban will also impact the genuine rough sleepers.

"I guess it will affect them, but there's so many agencies now opening up to help them. The true people that want help will get it."

Belinda says there is a group of about 10 to 12 people persisting with the begging in Greerton and they are disruptive.

She says the begging can be aggressive, but they avoid her now because they know she disagrees with what they do.

I tell Belinda about the hīkoi planned for Monday in central Tauranga, where people will be marching in protest of the ban.

She says everyone's allowed to do what they want.

"But all I ask is to see it from our side as a retailer. I've invested a lot of money in this business to be here, I'm quite passionate about Greerton and to see these people outside my shop disrupting my customers is really upsetting."

A few doors down, Andrew Linn, owner of Artisan Manufacturing Jewellers, says the proposed ban is a "step in the right direction".

Linn, who has also owned his store for about 16 years, says he is still a bit concerned about how enforceable it is.

"Apparently it's not. You can't have rules if you can't enforce them. It's a waste of time having rules if you can't enforce them."

However, he is hopeful it will allow something to be done about the beggars.

Greerton Village, Chadwick Rd. Photo / Andrew Warner
Greerton Village, Chadwick Rd. Photo / Andrew Warner

I continue to make my way through the village and go up to an older couple on Chadwick Rd, who are standing outside a shop.

They have lived in Greerton for about 15 years, and both think the proposed ban is a good idea.

The man, aged 80, says he regularly sees rough sleepers at the back of Greerton Hall, by the toilets.

"They seem to sleep there and leave their gear there all day."

His wife, aged 77, says the ban is "a great idea".

"I don't know why they're not staying at home, but if they haven't got a place to stay, there are places for them," she says.

"There's no reason with the dole and the pension and everything else in New Zealand; there shouldn't be any need for anybody left on the street."

The man says: "The state can cater for them."

His wife adds: "And they cater very well."

She says if people can afford to smoke, they can afford to be off the street.

"If I see them smoking, that is another reason I would never give them any money – on principle."

Her husband agrees.

"If they can afford to smoke, they can buy a pie."

Further down Chadwick Rd, I walk past some people soaking up the winter sun outside the post shop. The cherry blossom trees around them are bare.

Others are in line at eftpos machines, are walking past talking on their phones, or are sitting in cars waiting. I can hear children playing outside at Greerton Village School. It is lunchtime.

There's a man sitting on a bench reading and security guards walk ahead of me in high-vis yellow jackets.

And then, there's Cleo again.

"See, I'm walking around now," she says to me, before greeting another passerby. "Hello, dear."

I carry on and wander into a shop on Chadwick Rd and meet one of its owners.

She says they have been there nearly two and a half years and she hopes the proposed ban will go through.

"It does affect our business when they're sitting outside."

The woman says she knows that a lot of the beggars are not homeless.

She believes some of the beggars are collecting money to feed drug or alcohol habits.

She says from what she can see, the proposed ban is the only thing that can be done right now.

"Because the police can't do anything at the moment."

The shop owner says her husband has invited online critics down to the store on a Friday afternoon so they can see what goes on.

"There are a lot of people up in arms against the bylaw; those people aren't experiencing what we have to every day."

I ask her, like I did Belinda, if she thinks this could affect genuine homeless people as well.

"I believe there's a lot of help for those genuine ones and if they want to make the right decisions and take that road, then there are plenty of services out there for them."

Mike Prince says he has been homeless and living on the street with his two teenage sons for more than a year. Photo / Scott Yeoman
Mike Prince says he has been homeless and living on the street with his two teenage sons for more than a year. Photo / Scott Yeoman

Heading back up towards Cameron Rd, I see Cleo a third time.

"Boo," she says with a laugh. She places a hand on my arm as I pass.

The man on the bench is still reading his book in the sun.

Back near Greerton Hall on Cameron Rd, I speak to Mike Prince, who says he has been homeless and living on the street with his two teenage sons for more than a year.

The 51-year-old says the proposed ban is "not too good".

"It's going to cause a lot of trouble I think, more than anything else. People still need places to sleep, eh, and it's the only places that are dry. That's all they're looking for."

Mike says the people the council actually need to go after are "the aggressive beggars".

"They're the ones that go and ask. There's a lot out there that just use cardboard boxes and signs, and they don't ask, they don't get into trouble. It's up to the person to give it to them."

There are a lot of problems involving those aggressive beggars in Greerton, Mike says, and the trouble started when they were pushed out of town.

He says the Greerton community is lovely, generous and good-hearted.

Mike thinks the hīkoi on Monday is a good thing and he expects a large turnout.

"It's going to let the people out there know who's out there. There are more than rough sleepers – people living in cars and that; I'd say they'll be there too."