Less than a year since Tauranga City Council adopted a controversial begging and rough sleeping ban, a new-look council is considering revoking it. Retailers say the ban has been great but homeless advocates say it is to blame for a rapidly deteriorating situation for the vulnerable. Kiri Gillespie investigates.
Tauranga city leaders are considering revoking a controversial ban on begging and rough sleeping, less than a year after it was passed.
On November 20, 2018, Tauranga City 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.
The decision was met with a wave of support from retailers, criticism from homeless advocates and an application for judicial review 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.
Next week, newly elected members will vote whether to revoke the bylaw.
In a begging and rough sleeping report prepared for Tuesday's meeting, it is recommended councillors vote that either the bylaw "is not the most appropriate way of addressing the perceived problem in relation to begging and rough sleeping" or resolve that it is.
In the report, policy analyst Rebecca Gallagher recommended revoking the bylaws on begging and rough sleeping, citing several reasons each. These included that the council could rely on other bylaw provisions to address the impacts of begging in public, and that a rough sleeping bylaw was contradictory to the council's draft Community Wellbeing Strategic Plan and existing partnership work to address homelessness.
Milo Night co-ordinator Tracey Carlton said the mental health of the homeless people she dealt with each week had rapidly declined since the bylaw was introduced.
"They don't feel comfortable in the city. They know they are not wanted in the city," she said.
"The worst thing about the bylaw is it's pushed everyone from their community. They feel more disconnected and more maligned than they already felt. I think the bylaw has something to answer for."
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Awhina House manager Angela Wallace said it would be amazing if the ban was revoked.
"We've had a whole lot of women through here and living here. Some of these women have been affected by the bylaw and had to move from where they were staying. It does affect the day to day lives of people," she said.
"I feel the bylaw is a way to break them - out of sight, out of mind."
However, former councillor Terry Molloy, who proposed the ban in 2017 after hearing retailers' concerns, said he hoped it would continue.
"I fully understand that society is judged by how it treats its most disadvantaged and from that point of view I've always been very supportive of doing as much as we can to hold those less fortunate."
Molloy said he and the former council often helped organisations that helped homeless people but something needed to be done about people intimidating shoppers and scaring off business for retailers.
He said the bylaw was not about "chasing beggars out of town".
"What we were trying to do is protect the rest of the community, for example: Greerton. They were destroying Greerton and it wasn't homeless. It was a very challenging group of people doing this."
The bylaw was not the answer but rather, a tool in a toolbox, he said.
"It's an incredibly difficult position, looking after disadvantaged but also trying to help the rest of the community from the negative effects of begging."
Greerton Four Square's owner said since the bylaw came into force it had made a significant difference with more people coming into the village to shop, and trade at his store had picked up again.
"So many customers have commented to me about how they're happy about the bylaw because they are no longer hassled for money. Some of the beggars were quite intimidating ... the bylaw is not only good for business but it's good for our customers," he said.
Mint Lertanantachi and his wife who own One Tree Bakery in Devonport Rd said the bylaw made "little difference".
Some homeless were flouting the ban and there needed to be greater enforcement of the bylaw, he said.
The bylaw came into effect on April 1, 2019, when the council received 28 begging complaints, 16 of which came from Greerton, compared to a total of three complaints in each March and May. In June there were four complaints, in July there were 11, in August eight, September three, and three again last month.
Greerton Village Community Association Mainstreet manager Sally Benning refused to comment ahead of Tuesday's meeting. Mount Mainstreet and the Downtown Tauranga chairman could not be reached.
Barrister Michael Sharp, who filed the application for the judicial review, could also not be reached.
- additional reporting Sandra Conchie
The legal status of Tauranga's begging and rough sleeping bylaw:
Negotiations between Tauranga City Council and Tauranga Housing Advocacy Trust were entered into earlier this year in an attempt to avoid litigation. Agreed amended wording was developed with the trust and the council. However, in August the council voted not to adopt for consultation amended wording of the bylaw's rough sleeping and begging provisions. As the council could not progress to public consultation, the trust sought a hearing date in early 2020. The court has set a hearing date for judicial review proceedings of March 5, 2020.
What is the bylaw?
- No person shall beg in a public place within 5m of a public entrance to retail
premises within defined areas in the CBD, Greerton and Mount Maunganui.
- No person shall rough sleep within 5m of a retail premises within defined areas
in the CBD, Greerton and Mount Maunganui.