“Take the beggars to court”: MP

Another pop-up CBD campsite. Begging is a consequence of homelessness. Picture by John Borren.

The crown prosecutor turned politician says prosecute the beggars.

Simon Bridges, leader of the opposition and MP for Tauranga has “respectfully suggested” the city council play hardball with beggars and homeless who violate the bylaws by charging them and taking them to court.

“The council’s being told every day its begging bylaws are unenforceable. Well I say take them to court.

“Fight it and win. And if they lose, at least they’ve tried to do something here.”

The MP’s comments come on the back of the new Tauranga City Council voting 6-5 in favour of progressing a recommendation to revoke the begging and roughs sleeping provisions of its Street Use and Public Places Bylaw. “I don’t want to stick it to the council too much, but I think well-intentioned people can sometimes get the wrong answer.”

One of those ‘well-intentioned’ people Simon refers to could be new city councillor Jako Abrie. Our “hard-done-by-residents” are a priority for him.

“Begging and homelessness are complex issues, and simplistic knee jerk reactions like the bylaw are not the most appropriate solution,” Jako told The Weekend Sun.

“We need a considered strategy involving all the social organisations and government agencies working in this space. Work on the Tauranga strategy has begun.”

A year ago, the council voted to ban begging and rough sleeping within five metres of shop or hospitality entranceways in the City, Greerton and Mount CBDs.

Retailers loved it, there was an outcry from homeless advocates and a case claiming a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights is pending.

Now, with the possibility of the bylaw being rescinded, Simon Bridges has renewed his call to keep the begging ban in and the beggars out.

“Because if the council backs down, the begging and homeless problem in the CBD will just get worse.

“The council spends many millions of dollars every year on lawyers, and this one would be worth the investment (in a prosecution).”

The MP says it’s simple. “If the bylaw is revoked, if begging is permitted, people will keep going to Bayfair and the Crossing and not into the CBD.”

He pointed to council officials who he believes would always say the ban is too hard and can't be enforced. “Officials always say this because they equate something which is difficult with something that is impossible.”

But, he says, Hamilton and Nelson have found ways to make begging bans stick. And while he is full of admiration for “great work” being done by groups to help homeless, he believes compassion can go hand in hand with hard-headed thinking.

“People are asking for money and then threatening when they don’t get it. Constituents have been threatened with sexual acts and violence and being followed to their cars. Well, surprise, surprise, those people tend to stop coming into the CBD unless they absolutely need to.”

Jako Abrie is a trustee of the Under the Stars group which offers practical help and support to the homeless – working on the values of kindness and compassion without judgement. The first term councillor says the Ministries of Social Development and Health along with the police are best placed to interact with ‘challenging individuals.’

“It is unacceptable to ask council staff to navigate complex behavioral issues potentially involving mental health, violence, addiction, criminal history, past trauma, and disconnection from friends and family.”

He urged Simon Bridges to acquaint himself with ‘Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance.’

 The theory contends that not knowing one's ultimate position in society would lead to the creation of a just, fair, egalitarian society.

Decision-makers would not make decisions which benefit a certain group at the expense of another, because the decision-maker could theoretically end up part of a disadvantaged group.

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