Auckland City Missioner Helen Robinson says Covid-19 is exacerbating social issues in the central city, which one resident has likened to 1980s New York, but with fewer murders.
The resident has described the city centre as moving from one of the safest and most friendly cities in the world to a place where public drunkenness, meth rages, and opioid comas are common and women are followed by unsavoury characters.
In an open letter to Mayor Phil Goff and Auckland Central MP Chloe Swarbrick, the resident has reignited a debate about crime and anti-social behaviour in the city centre.
It follows a Herald series, Crime in the City, that ran just before Auckland went into lockdown in August. It found a sharp rise in violent crime and more than 1000 people had been assaulted in the CBD this year.
Robinson, Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck and local politicians are acutely aware of the social problems giving the central city a bad name, but say the answers lie in a co-ordinated approach from the Government and multiple agencies.
Robinson said 100 days of lockdown for Covid had exacerbated pre-existing issues, such as the demand for food and a health and homelessness response in the central city.
She said there are about 30 rough sleepers on the street during the current lockdown, significantly less than last year, saying the mission is working hard to place people in emergency housing.
Concerns about anti-social behaviour have been around for a number of years, said Robinson, saying if people are experiencing criminal behaviour they should report it to the police.
Robinson said the answer is to address the root drivers of reality and what are the root responses.
"We need to provide housing. We need to provide adequate income. We need to provide appropriate health responses and look at the deeper drivers of what is pushing people into homelessness," she said.
Beck echoed her message, saying months ago Heart of the City and city fringe business organisations wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister about the rise in crime and anti-social behaviour.
The letter called for co-ordinated, cross-government agency attention, including immediate action for more policing, better management of emergency housing and services for mental health and addiction.
"We haven't had a decent response," said Beck.
"At the end of the day there does seem to be growing crime across the city and that is disturbing," said Beck, saying police have been taken off their core work and put on Covid duties at MIQ, the border and protests.
Waitemata and Gulf councillor Pippa Coom said she is concerned about reports of people not feeling safe in the city, saying a safe return plan is underway for when the central city comes out of lockdown.
"It's important as we come out of lockdown the city centre is safe and feels safe because perception is important as well," she said.
Goff said the council had a role to play, but effective responses lay with government agencies and police, who have the power to arrest or move people on.
And Swarbrick said moving a problem along does not solve the problem. Real investment and resourcing of evidence-based solutions, like Housing First and the requisite wrap-around support, does, she said.
Wayne Beverley, who has lived in an historic apartment building in the central city for 20 years, said parts of the central city are a disgusting and dangerous place to live and work - and would move away with his partner if he could afford to.
"Not one of my mates or family will come into the CBD with the state of run-down infrastructure, endless street hooligans, open drug use, daytime crime, closed shops, endless drunkenness, numerous makeshift street 'homes' and aggressive thugs make living here just hell," he said.
Beverley said he would see the police on daytime street beats about twice a year, saying residents are being left to fend for themselves.
"I now accompany my partner to get our evening meals in Lorne St. I am worried of an attack or aggressive behaviour."
Beverley said last Friday a large group of people gathered outside the Countdown supermarket on Victoria St in the afternoon, consuming beer, playing loud music and being aggressive towards people.
A Countdown spokeswoman said because of its central location, the Victoria St Countdown often has people sitting outside. "As long as they are safe and not causing a public disturbance, we respect their right to share public space," she said.
"Our team are trained on what to do to keep themselves and our customers safe, and will alert the police or other emergency services if any situation arises that they may need assistance with," the spokeswoman said.
Another woman contacted the Herald to say she left the central city four years ago because Queen St and the central city had become so depressing to live in due to anti-social behaviour, not to mention dodging puddles of vomit on weekend morning walks.
"Thank God I moved to Christchurch when I did. I can only imagine how terrible it is now," she said.
In feedback to the Herald, one woman said she chose to live in the perceived "bad part" of the central city and detested growing intergenerational class-segregation.
"However, over the last three months the CBD has become something else entirely. I've been touched/grabbed on two occasions in the last fortnight when I've ignored approaches by people wanting money. Mattresses on the footpath, abuse etc. Action is overdue," she said.