Tauranga City Council’s anti-begging bylaw has come a cropper against the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
Councillors moves to deny the homeless sleeping space in vacant shop fronts in the city CBD via a bylaw is not the most appropriate way of addressing the issue, states the staff report presented to the Community and Culture Committee this week.
A bylaw to curb begging and rough sleeping also contradicts the objectives and initiatives in the city council’s own recently adopted Community Wellbeing Strategic Plan and to the collaborative partnerships that council has been building to address the wider issue of homelessness, says the staff report by strategic and policy planning team leader Melony Atkins.
“Prohibiting rough sleepers from the city centre and/or other retail centres would likely shift them to residential or reserve land where they would be harder to locate and provide assistance, and would create additional safety issues,” says Melony’s report.
“A bylaw is not considered to be an appropriate or proportionate response to the perceived problem of the presence of rough sleepers.”
The report goes on to say the evidence for the problem of intimidating and aggressive begging relates primarily to Police matters and is able to be addressed by Police under the Summary of Offences Act 1981.
Evidence is limited and largely anecdotal. Police and council staff are concerned there is an issue of perceptions of intimidating and aggressive begging that may not be matched in reality.
“There appear to be anti-social behaviours occurring, especially in Greerton, but Council staff do not believe that the majority of this is related to the activity of begging or to the majority of beggars themselves,” says Melony’s report.
“The underlying issues and causes of begging are complex. A bylaw is an inappropriate mechanism to address the complexities of why people beg or provide the support that they require to function in society.”
These need to be addressed outside of the bylaw process through the appropriate social agencies. While beggars may make people feel embarrassed/guilty/ uncomfortable, this is not a criminal offence nor appropriate to address through a bylaw.
“If there are legitimate needs in the community, it is considered inappropriate to hide these or criminalise them,” says the report.
Staff are of the opinion that both the begging and the rough sleeping provisions have NZ Bill of Rights Act implications for the city council.
A notice of motion by committee chairman Terry Molloy in November 2017 directed city council staff to bring forward the review of the Street Use and Public Places Bylaw from 2023 to 2018, and to include consideration of prohibiting begging and rough sleeping in public places. The committee decision was supported at an Extraordinary Council meeting on November 27, 2017.
Committee members supported the staff recommendation to continue with the expansion of the current council initiatives to address begging, homelessness and anti-social behaviour.
Committee members also chose to include an amendment to the Street Use and Public Places bylaw, as follows:
New definition: “Begging means soliciting for money or goods for private benefit.”
And a new clause to Nuisance, Public Safety and Damage to Public Places: “No person shall beg in a public place in a manner that is likely to cause intimidation, harassment, alarm, or distress to any reasonable person.”
Public consultation will commence in June.