Some women who have slept on Tauranga streets have suffered sexual abuse, prompting fears the problem will escalate if the proposed rough sleeping ban goes through.
Homeless advocates told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend they were concerned Tauranga City Council's proposed ban would put homeless women in Tauranga in further danger.
A council committee last week agreed to include the ban, which prohibits sleeping and begging within five metres of a retail or hospitality premises under the proposed draft Street Use and Public Places Bylaw.
The community and culture committee voted 6-2 in favour.
Kai Aroha organiser Tania Lewis-Rickard said sexual abuse of homeless women was shrouded in secrecy because of the dangers associated with disclosure.
"We haven't seen it, but we've heard about it."
One woman gave her consent for her story to be shared by Lewis-Rickard in the hope it shed light on how vulnerable homeless women were.
"A … woman was taken in, to a house because she was on the street. She was staying there for a little while, [then] she was locked out of the house and [told she was] allowed back in exchange for sexual favours. So she left.
The woman was "too afraid" to report the matter to police.
Lewis-Rickard said there were more examples from homeless women, but it was difficult to give specific examples because she felt an obligation to protect their confidence."
"Abuse has happened … There are things that have happened that I can't share," she said.
Under the Stars co-ordinator Liz Kite said one woman "said she's been raped".
Kite said she believed women would be more at risk of assault if the proposed ban went ahead and in her view the council could help considering there were "empty buildings".
Milo Nights organiser Tracey Carlton said she also knew of homeless women who had been raped.
"We hear about the things that happen to them at night, which are assault and abuse.
"We've heard from homeless women on our streets that they've been raped ... they're often threatened with knives. "
Carlton said if the ban "goes through" it will put homeless women in "immediate danger of abuse and assault".
"In the doorway of a shop, they have lighting, they have a degree of safety. That's why they choose to stay there."
Tauranga Women's Refuge manager Hazel Hape said she had positive experiences with the council but it had not approached the refuge about a women's night shelter.
"We would be willing to put our hands up to help."
A ban would not solve anything and homeless women would continue to be "at risk", she said.
When the council was asked for its response to these concerns and the lack of a women's shelter, it referred the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend to councillor Leanne Brown.
Brown, who voted against the ban, said she was not aware Women's Refuge was willing to help establish a women's night shelter.
Asked if it concerned her that women may be at more risk because of the rough sleeping ban, Brown said "absolutely".
"I would hope like heck that this ban on rough sleepers … doesn't put them into more vulnerable positions."
Brown said she wanted to ensure everyone was safe.
Sonny Williams, of Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Support Services, said he had not heard about any local assaults but "that's not to say it doesn't happen".
"Not every assault is reported. We know as sector that not everyone reports."
Police were not aware of any sex assault complaints from homeless women and encouraged victims to report any attacks.
Who helps the homeless?
Kai Aroha - feeds the homeless in Greerton every Friday night
Under the Stars - feeds the homeless in the city every Saturday night
Milo Nights - feeds the homeless two nights a week
The People's Project - a 'housing first' initiative, opened in Tauranga last week
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