Less than a year since Tauranga City Council adopted a controversial begging and rough sleeping ban, a new-look council has voted towards revoking it. Kiri Gillespie was at the meeting when councillors voted and investigates why some retailers and social service advocates say the decision is flawed and others believe it's great.
Retailers and advocates for the homeless are divided on a Tauranga City Council move to revoke its begging and rough sleeping bans.
A year ago the council voted 6-5 to ban begging and rough sleeping within 5m of public entrances to retail or hospitality premises in the Tauranga City, Greerton and Mount Maunganui CBDs.
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The decision was met with a wave of support from retailers, criticism from advocates for the homeless and a legal challenge from Tauranga Housing Advocacy Trust, which was concerned the bylaw was a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights. A hearing date for the review has been set for March 5, 2020.
"If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it."
Yesterday , the newly-formed council voted 6-5 for a recommendation to consult on revoking the begging and rough sleeping restrictions.
Downtown Tauranga chairman Brian Berry implored elected members to keep the bylaw as there had been a notable difference in the city centre since the bans came into effect in April.
"If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it."
Greerton Village Community Association manager Sally Benning said she and retailers "would be devastated if it were revoked".
Aggressive begging and intimidation of the elderly caused shoppers to desert the village but since the bylaw, shoppers had returned, she said.
Tauranga city leaders vote towards revoking begging and rough sleeping ban
After the vote, Benning told the Bay of Plenty Times the decision was disappointing.
"There's going to be community consultation, that's a good thing, but we would have by far preferred that they didn't vote to revoke."
Benning questioned how many of the councillors had been to Greerton to witness the problems retailers were talking about "to see it from our perspective".
She said revoking the bylaw would not address the issues retailers had faced and no one had offered a better solution.
" ... There are a lot of people talking about homeless people but that's not what the bylaw says. Begging and rough sleeping, there's a huge difference and the lines have been blurred so it's very confusing for some."
Te Tuinga Whanau director Tommy Wilson said Tauranga needed to move beyond just the bylaw.
"To bylaw or not to bylaw is not the question. It's about opening the argument to discuss what we are actually doing here, having a real conversation, which is getting past the giving out the kai and the Milo."
Wilson said he and his organisation were "at the battlefield" fighting to help struggling people every day, often working parents living off cheap noodles and struggling to pay rent.
"Those are the people we need to help. Not the ones with a hand out for a gold coin."
Wilson said the city needed to stop "feeling sorry for people" and look at the bigger picture to work out how best to apply strategic kindness. The bylaw was an example of this.
"The thing is we don't have beggars anymore in Greerton. Why? We challenged them to come in and get help or to move on."
Tracey Carlton who runs Milo Nights with Tauranga Moana Auntys [sic] said vulnerable people felt "pushed out into the shadows" because of the bylaw.
"I just want people to have shelter and be safe. That's men and women. [The Auntys] would love for our homeless community to have the opportunity to be consulted in this process and also have the opportunity to speak at a council meeting and the impact it has had on their mental health and wellbeing."
A former homeless woman who would only be known as Sacha said revoking the bylaw would be a good thing because it would help women needing help become more visible in the city centre, keeping them safer.
"It's a good thing. It's important women are not hidden away."
Sacha said she believed the examples of intimidation and aggressive begging were exaggerations.
Tauranga Housing Advocacy Trust trustee Shem Otieno said while the vote was encouraging, the trust would wait to see more.
"We don't know what will happen. We will wait and see. As of now, our date for the judicial review is March 5, unless there's a complete change from the council."
Otieno said the trust was happy to accept amendments to the bylaw's wording but these changes were voted against by the former council earlier this year.
Have your say
Public consultation opened today and will close at 5pm on December 20. An overview of the proposed changes to the bylaw, the draft bylaw and an online submission form are available at tauranga.govt.nz/streetuse Submissions will be heard in January.
Yesterday Tauranga City Council took the first step towards revoking the begging and rough sleeping ban it introduced last year. The Bay of Plenty Times asked business owners their view on the latest turn of events.
Greerton Lotto owner Belinda Sands
''I think if the council consults with the people first that will be great but I don't want to see Greerton go back to how it was two years ago. I also think Greerton retailers have come across as uncompassionate but we are not. I love Greerton and while the council has expressed getting rid of the bylaw but we need to work out another way and an alternative.''
Breathe Salon and Spa owner Jill Briscoe
''It is hard enough as it is in the city let alone having to deal with this. I have had clients being followed in my door with people after money and some have been bullied at night going to their cars. And that is not cool. I don't support revoking the ban.''
House of Travel Tauranga owner Shane Kennedy
''I am surprised. In an environment where we are trying to survive not only from a retail point of view but by also developing the CBD into a residential space and with all the redevelopment happening, on balance it seems to me to be a backwards step.''
Keith Miller from Visique Greerton
''We have noticed a huge change in the last year and since the ban has been imposed issues with people begging and anti-social behaviour is close to zero. So from our point of view if revoking the ban means we revert to those problems then I would certainly be against it. But a whole lot of social services have been put in place and if people have been looked after and taken care of there will be no need for them to come back. I guess it depends on the outcome and if the cause of the problem has been addressed.''
How they voted
To consult on revoking the begging and rough sleeping provisions in the Street Use and Public Places Bylaw 2018:
For: Heidi Hughes, John Robson, Andrew Hollis, Jako Abrie, Tina Salisbury and mayor Tenby Powell.
Against: Larry Baldock, Kelvin Clout, Dawn Kiddie, Bill Grainger and Steve Morris.