A stream of complaints from women harassed by Occupy Wellington protesters has spurred the city council into legal talks to evict the campers from Civic Square.
The "preliminary discussions with lawyers" come as the makeup of the group has morphed from political protesters into the city's homeless and disaffected.
At the height of the protest, which began on October 15, up to 50 tents dotted the small lawn outside the Wellington City Council buildings. Few, if any, of the original protest group now remain.
Instead, about 20 people, many of whom are homeless and have mental health problems, are now camping there in increasingly makeshift shelters.
Council spokesman Richard MacLean said there had been a "steady stream of complaints".
"Most complaints are about them using the public space.
"We've had complaints from women about verbal harassment, women who have felt uncomfortable walking past, things like that."
The council's next move would be discussed in the coming week when key people returned from holiday.
"We've already started preliminary discussions with lawyers about possible approaches to deal with the situation."
The council will be keen for the city to present its best face within the next few weeks as it hosts the rugby sevens weekend on February 3-4 and the International Arts Festival, beginning on February 24. Many festival events will be at venues near the campsite.
"The people who shifted in on October 15 are not the same people who are there now – they are completely different," Mr MacLean said.
There had been accusations even within the group of threatening behaviour and of acting "inappropriately" toward women.
Some of those who had left were said to have done so because of other protesters' actions.
However, no complaints have been laid with police.
Acting area commander Inspector Soni Malaulau said officers were in regular contact with the occupiers. "Certainly our officers haven't fielded any complaints at this stage."
Downtown Community Ministry director Stephanie McIntyre said it was clear the group had changed significantly since it first set up camp.
"Many of the people now basing themselves there are homeless and I have visited there to make sure they know what support is available."
The group, who have renamed the site Maui's Garden, insist they have no plans to leave and say they have drawn up a code of conduct to outline expected behaviour.
Occupier Benjamin Easton, a regular thorn in the council's side, said he was not aware of women being harassed at the camp.
"The general presence of the disaffected being here isn't the problem," he said yesterday.
"People are just uncomfortable walking by here and seeing them because they themselves aren't disaffected." The onus was on the council to prove the homeless at the site had somewhere else to go.
"These are the people with the highest need. This has become a home to them. This is where they belong now."
Mr Malaulau said the makeshift campsite was in the central city's liquor ban zone, meaning protesters were not permitted to drink at the site.
"It's always a concern when there's a perception of criminals or otherwise coming together in a certain area. The issue for police is that we are enforcing the law – we can't impinge on the freedom of people.
"Until they have broken the law, it's really about ensuring people have the freedom to have their say. We will be keeping an eye on the developing situation there."
A small number of occupiers remain in Auckland's Aotea Square after legal action was taken by the council to evict them, and other occupiers have begun different movements in public spaces around Auckland.
In Christchurch, a group of occupiers remain in south Hagley Park, while a handful of protesters packed up their tents and left Dunedin's Octagon in December after a 66-day occupation.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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