As the hīkoi for the homeless marched through central Tauranga this afternoon, it passed a man sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign.

He picked up his few belongings and joined the crowd of between 50 and 60 people, who were chanting in unison as they continued on towards The Strand.

"Peace of mind, they can keep, if they had a place to sleep," the group shouted, as members of the public looked on, some pulling out their phones to take photos and videos.

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The 34-year-old newcomer said his name was London. He said he was living on the streets and wanted to join the march because "it's the right thing to do".

"I just got up because these are my people."

Almost an hour earlier, about 1pm, marchers started gathering outside Holy Trinity Church. They were marching to protest the city council's proposed begging and rough sleeping ban.

Last week 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.

This was against the advice of Tauranga City Council legal staff who said it could prove to be "unenforceable".

A crowd of between 50 and 60 people marched through central Tauranga today to protest the city council's proposed begging and rough sleeping ban. Photo / John Borren
A crowd of between 50 and 60 people marched through central Tauranga today to protest the city council's proposed begging and rough sleeping ban. Photo / John Borren

Tania Lewis-Rickard, director of food charity Kai Aroha, which feeds the homeless in Greerton every Friday evening, started organising the hīkoi late last week.

Before the march set off today, she told the Bay of Plenty Times it was not about "us against them".

"It's about forging together to find a solution to move forward in helping get our people off the street.

"Council should have provided an alternative and now they want to do that … but it's just the way they went about it."

Lewis-Rickard said a banner at the front of the hīkoi was "Poverty is no accident".

"So I'm hoping that will break down barriers," she said.

"They [the council] know that we're here for them to reconsider the bylaw ban on rough sleeping and to instil hope back into the community."

Clouds were clearing and the sun was out as the march made its way through the central business district.

The group was largely made up of people who work and volunteer with the homeless, members of the public, rough sleepers and other members of the street community.

The volume of the chanting increased and cars started to back up behind the march on Devonport Rd.

One of the signs being carried read: "Where will they sleep now?"

Cars start to back up behind the march on Devonport Rd. Photo / Scott Yeoman
Cars start to back up behind the march on Devonport Rd. Photo / Scott Yeoman

Tracy Cooper said she was taking part because she had empathy for the homeless.

"If they aren't allowed in town, where would they be going?"

She was grateful to the council for starting this dialogue and opening up the topic. "So we can actually work with something."

Cooper volunteers at Milo Night, which helps the homeless in central Tauranga twice a week, and she used to be a volunteer counsellor at the Tauranga Moana Night Shelter for men.

She said the hīkoi showed "solidarity for the people that we care for ... they're humans, they're humans with stomachs. They're hungry and cold".

Tracey Cooper is opposed to the council's begging and rough sleeping ban. Photo / Scott Yeoman
Tracey Cooper is opposed to the council's begging and rough sleeping ban. Photo / Scott Yeoman

Also marching was Darwin Taka, a 29-year-old man clutching a Bible.

"I'm here because I was homeless once upon a time but I got saved by grace from God and I've got to give the grace back."

Hugh Robb, 53, was pushing his electric bicycle among the crowd.

The Merivale man, who ran in last year's general election as an independent candidate, said: "I think we need to look for some practical solutions and I don't think that's just making a bylaw which is not enforceable – they can't really do anything."

Robb said the best solution was to "build some houses".

"There are the mental health issues as well and I think we probably need to look at that because, over the past 20 years, our mental health facilities have been run down."

He said he was taking part in the hīkoi as a resident of Tauranga.

"We just need to actually look at solving the problem, rather than just making it illegal."

The hīkoi travelled along Devonport Rd and onto The Strand, took a left at Hamilton St, doubled back on Willow St past the Tauranga City Council offices, then left onto Wharf St, back onto The Strand and came to a stop at Masonic Park, near the Willow St bus stop.

Tyler Middleton, a sales assistant at Bronco's Outdoors, watched the march as it passed.
He said he supported the ban on begging.

"Not a lot of the people here are homeless. A lot of them are beggars," he said.

Once at Masonic Park, Lewis-Rickard addressed the marchers and invited a few of them to speak.

Stories of what it was like to live on the street, and suggestions about what was needed most, were shared to shouts of encouragement and clapping.

Councillor Terry Molloy, who voted for the ban to be included in the bylaw, then appeared before the gathered protesters.

"The bylaw is not necessarily about punishing people or pushing them off the street," he said to the crowd.

"No one's going to be fined. No one's going to be locked up. The worst case scenario will be, 'Look, you can't stay here but we do have a place for you to go'."

He told the Bay of Plenty Times after his speech that he thought the bylaw "will be good".

"It's brought people out today which is a good thing. It's helping everyone focus on the problems."

Molloy said the ban would be "quite a useful tool".

"It was never designed to be the answer on its own, it can't be. That would be a nonsense."

He said there was a little bit of hysteria about the ban.

"There's a number of places where they can both beg and or sleep. It's just stopping them from doing harm to small businesses who are struggling."

Councillor Leanne Brown, who did not vote for the ban, also spoke to those gathered.

Tracey Carlton, one of the organisers of Milo Night, spoke about why she felt it was important to protest the ban.

"The reason they choose to sleep where they do is lighting, wind shelter, security cameras give them safety."

She said her volunteers hear about the things that happen to rough sleepers at night, including assault and abuse.

Carlton said she hoped for a "practical solution" and called for a day centre where the homeless could be warm, dry and sheltered. She also wanted a women's shelter.

Carlton said the issue of homelessness was "complex".

"This isn't just a straightforward issue. Give us the opportunity to collaborate, communicate and let's work on this together."