Agencies giving free meals and food to the city's homeless are inadvertently "enabling" some bad behaviour, the head of a local security business says.
The comments come as police call for those who feed the homeless to work together to ensure they know who they are feeding to avoid people "double-dipping" and taking advantage.
The problem came to a head in the past week, with Central Mall management asking a charity meal service to move away from the outskirts of the mall as workers felt intimidated by those congregating for free meals.
Watchdog Security chief executive Brett Wilson - whose staff work all over the city including in the central business district - said unfortunately for some of the city's homeless free food meant they had more benefit money for drugs and alcohol which harmed the city's image and safety.
Wilson said Rotorua had many agencies with "big hearts", but sometimes their charity was "enabling bad behaviour".
"That is the law of unintended consequences... We have noticed gang associates coming for the free meals and are arriving in their vehicles. Then they have money for other stuff, like drugs and alcohol. In Rotorua, it is moving beyond what started off as feeding genuine homeless to now being abused (by others)."
However, those behind the free meals say they are not there to judge and will continue to feed whoever needs it.
Other agencies say they already keep close tabs on those who try to take more than they were entitled to.
Rotorua Central Mall general manager Peter Faulkner said people wanting free meals had started congregating on the grass verges on the mall's Amohau St boundary from 5pm to 7pm.
Faulkner asked the Rotorua Lakes Council for help to move on the meal service and contacted police after complaints from mall tenants. Previously the meal services were distributed at the Government Gardens and Kuirau Park.
"We have requested they look at alternate locations because of the flow-on issues. Essentially the environment did not feel safe for a number of reasons."
He said this included workers leaving the buildings late and walking to their cars feeling intimidated. Faulkner said there was often rubbish and broken glass left behind overnight and, although they couldn't link it to the meal service clients, three large panels of the building had been kicked in in recent weeks.
He had also met with police and they were monitoring the situation.
Percy Poharama, who operates the service with his wife, said he delivered up to 200 meals a day, up to 20 of them are taken to houses of people they knew were in need and the rest were picked up by the homeless on the outskirts of the mall.
"I do hear through the grapevine that the mall has an issue with it."
Poharama, who works during the day as a welder, finished work each day at 4.30pm then joined his wife, who cooked the meals, to deliver them in plastic containers.
The operation, which goes under the Feeding Rotorua Charitable Trust umbrella, survives off food bought by Poharama or is donated by local businesses.
Poharama, who is a Christian, said the backgrounds of people didn't matter to him.
"I am not there to hand a judgement down on a person. I would not turn away a person even if they were on drugs or not. That's not the reason I'm there. I am there to feed them."
Poharama said he enjoyed the people and he was known to take some home if they had nowhere to stay.
"I know a lot of people say we are enabling them but when I was out on the streets, most of my issues stemmed from me being hungry. To me, whether they get their money and spend it on alcohol and drugs and then come to get a meal, I am not there to tell they can't."
Elmer Peiffer from Rotorua Whakaora said their service moved from feeding the homeless, under the banner of Love Soup, to distributing food and it was mainly to those who rented and weren't homeless.
He said their services weren't required during the lockdown as the homeless were fed in the motels so they shifted their focus to now help those who had homes but were struggling between pay packets.
"Quite often after the bills are paid the first thing to go is food."
He said they operated a "shop" from Depot St and those in need were able to take what they needed, with the idea being it was to be essentials "between shopping" not the actual grocery shopping.
He said they already restricted some items to one per customer and those accessing their services were not allowed to go more than once a week.
Rotorua police acting area controller Inspector Phil Taikato said anecdotally police had heard there was a minority who had been helping themselves to several different types of agencies and were therefore "double-dipping".
"We are trying to collate who is feeding them and how we can better co-ordinate them."
A council spokesperson said they were aware of the concerns at Central Mall. The council is not involved in providing the meal service.
"We have met with the trust that supports Percy and we are currently looking for potential alternative locations."
Ministry of Social Development Bay of Plenty regional commissioner Mike Bryant said a person on a single person Job Seekers' benefit could get between $175.48 and $250.74 after tax depending on their age.
They can also seek assistance with their accommodation costs through accommodation supplement. Depending on their circumstances they may also be eligible for other assistance such as Temporary Additional Support, Disability Allowance and other hardship assistance.
Those eligible for emergency housing or transitional housing need to pay 25 per cent of their income towards their accommodation costs. However, in the case of emergency housing, most people don't need to pay for their first seven nights.
When asked if the ministry was worried free food was preventing people from being motivated to get a job, Bryant said with the right opportunities and choice most people had goals and aspirations to be independent in the future.
"We are working hard to ensure the best employment matches possible."
He said everyone's circumstances were different.