Opinion on whether to ban rough sleeping and begging on Tauranga streets has proven to be varied among the community, following verbal submissions made to Council this week.
More than 10 submissions have been made to the draft Street Use and Public Place Bylaw.
The stated purpose of the current Bylaw is to ensure; public health and safety is maintained; to protect the public from nuisances; minimise the potential for offensive behaviour; and to manage Public Places for the well-being and enjoyment of the public.
Retailers are among many who have indicated the need for the ban, based on the financial impact beggars are presenting to them as business owners.
Mainstreet Tauranga chair Brian Berry is one of many to reflect this in his submission.
“Our Downtown Tauranga member retailers suffer the direct financial consequences of the scourge of begging and rough sleeping in the CBD as potential customers find the Tauranga CBD an uncomfortable place to shop and so shop elsewhere.”
He says the issue rough sleepers present to retailers, comes in context of what he describes as being a ‘transitional phase’ of the CBD, and he highlights parking and road closure issues as further issues being faced by business owners.
“It is already a difficult place to shop or do business, due to multiple developments and seismic strengthening projects and the Council’s streetscaping and the associated road closures.”
“Whilst vehicle access to the CBD has been improved by applying time limits to ensure turnover of parking, there is currently a net loss of parking due to developments and streetscaping initiatives underway.
“You might think that this is off topic, however it is one of the many issues, including the begging and rough sleeping, that dissuades shoppers from entering the CBD and that therefore limits the ability of our retail members to earn a living and remain in the CBD.”
In light of this, a submission has also been presented by Baywide Community Law trustee Michael Sharp, who presented the legalities of what is being proposed in the bylaw.
“We found a number of issues,” he says. “Firstly we got hold of the Council reports under section 155, the Local Government Act which shows whether the bylaw is compliant with the law and the New Zealand Bill of Rights act – they concluded in this report there was no real problem and if you try to address it, it’s likely to be illegal.
“Our submission is supporting that report saying that these laws, and really no other council has gone this far, would go further than is necessary and would likely breach the New Zealand Bill of Rights for freedom of expression and freedom of movement among other things.
“You can see throughout a number of reports council has done quite a lot of research in the community with police about what problems there were. They could not identify any widespread issues with beggars causing disturbance and intimidation.
“In terms of rough sleeping the only issue the public has raised is that they feel sorry for them. So there’s none of the concerns shopkeepers are raising included in them.
“The other issue we have is council is bringing in these laws to protect the business of shopkeepers when that’s not the purpose of the bylaw; the bylaw is to protect the health and safety of members of public.”
A number of his comments resonate with Tauranga People’s Project manager Simone Cuers who, during her submission, also indicated some opposition to the ban.
“In principle we could support the proposed changes to the begging aspect of the bylaw, because The People’s Project supports approaches which will help people who beg move away from that lifestyle,” says Simone.
“We also see the importance around educating the public around giving money. One thing is clear if the general public didn’t give money people wouldn’t beg. We can all play our part in resolving the issue around begging.
“We understand why Tauranga City Council might need to ‘draw a line in the sand’ when begging behaviour is aggressive and problematic. We absolutely understand the need to prioritise all people’s safety in the community.
“However, we must also ensure there is access to the right support services for people who beg out of genuine need, and we must educate our community about its role and how we can all work together to help prevent and minimise begging.”
Simone says she would like to see the proposed changes to the begging bylaw include a health and safety response.
“This would include resources committed to community outreach to provide sustainable, long-term solutions to addressing and minimising begging in Tauranga.
“It would ideally see people who are in genuine need and who are begging being connected with long-term, sustainable services with the expertise to assist with the housing, health, food or financial support services they need.
“In addition, an ongoing and local government-led public education campaign to support business owners and the general public could be implemented.
“This would support a consistent community response in terms of how people should respond to people who are begging – including practical advice on what they can do and who they can call if they see someone in need in our community.”
Also joining the submission hearings is a woman who has been identified as a former rough sleeper.
Sasha, who can only be identified by her first name due to safety reasons, shared her experiences from the perspective of someone who has experienced rough sleeping first hand.
She says she fled her Christchurch home due to an abusive relationship, and ended up in Tauranga.
Sasha says she had great trouble seeking accommodation from backpackers, who refused to take her in, but eventually found a home in Gate Pa.
During her submission she highlighted the need for a Women’s Shelter in Tauranga.
Tracey Carlton, who runs a tri-weekly Milo Night in Tauranga’s CBD for rough sleepers as part of Street Kai, says she attended the hearing in support of Sasha.
“We look after a group of about 15 rough sleepers, who predominantly live in tents.
“Our women are unsafe, they are high risk. Sasha is just one example of this.”
Tracey says a meeting, to discuss the lack of a women’s shelter in Tauranga, is understood to have taken place following Sasha’s submission.