Unsightly and unwelcome

Photo: File.

‘No person shall sleep or otherwise occupy a footpath or road in the city centres….during the hours of darkness…’

Nelson’s hardline stance with its rough-sleeping homeless. And the definition of footpath and road extends to benches or seats in the city centre. No half measures.

It’s a hardline which Tauranga City Council may be forced to take.

“Banning rough sleeping on the CBD streets of Tauranga isn’t something that’s been considered in the past,” says deputy mayor, Kelvin Clout. “But it may be something we need to consider in the future.”

But cleaning up mainstreet would be tempered with compassion and caring. “Such a bylaw would only be introduced if there were alternative support services in place to assist those who would otherwise be sleeping rough” says Kelvin.

Nelson’s bylaw was prompted by a CBD ‘occupier and protester’, a man with a long-standing grievance against council. He and his supporters had their bedding and possessions littered along the entire frontage of the Farmers store.

It looked unkempt, was bad for business, created low level disorder and drew drunks to the CBD causing anti-social behaviour. That was enough for the Nelson City Council.

Tauranga’s problem is more one of homelessness than protest. But the upshot is the same.

“It’s undesirable to have people sleeping in doorways and places that are high visibility,” says Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregic. “Especially when it impacts on foot traffic and consequently their business.”

The Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t be opposed to a bylaw. Neither would Mainstreet Tauranga, the retailers group. It’s seeing more and more homeless people. And associated problems. “There are instances when they (the homeless) can be intimidating for shoppers and business owners and this can indeed have an impact on our members’ ability to run their business,” says spokesperson Sally Cooke.

It never wants to see a situation where customers aren’t entering a business because they feel intimidated by what is happening on the street.

Earlier this week a Weekend Sun reporter took a wander down Devonport Rd just after 7am. A man was cocooned in a bundle of covers in the doorway of a vacant shop in the Hedley building, his feet protruding onto the footpath.

Trucks were delivering, cars were up and down the street, people were walking to work, across the road a butcher shop was filling a window display, but the vagrant slept on.

When he became aware of the reporter’s presence, he didn’t appreciate the intrusion into what he considered his space. He lobbed an expletive, rolled over on the cold hard tiles and went back to sleep.

Kelvin Clout sees hope for this man – the housing first model which aims to put chronically homeless people with multiple and complex needs into permanent, secure and appropriate housing with wrap-around support services.

“Tauranga has been recognised as a priority area for funding for the model,” says Kelvin. “And it’s anticipated to have both an immediate and lasting effect for rough sleepers.”

He says council staff are also working with a social worker from St Peters House to conduct joint, weekly visits to homeless people sleeping rough to provide assistance. The council’s also providing the homeless families and individuals with shower facilities at Arataki Community Centre. An average of eight to 10 people per day are using the showers.

Meanwhile retailers are dealing with “an increasing prevalence” of problems with the homeless. “There does need to be compassion,” says Sally Cooke. “But this needs to be balanced with our members’ rights as business owners and the safety of our public on the city centre streets. So we urge the appropriate organisations to look at every way this can be addressed.”