Helpers of homeless not wanted

'The council has made it very clear'

DAVID NICOLL
Last updated 05:00 21/03/2014
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Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ
WELCOME BY SOME: Kim Forrest helps dole out dinner to hungry people in Garden Place.

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A group feeding Hamilton's needy say the council is forcing them out of Garden Place to stop more homeless people coming to the area.

But the council says while they have received complaints about the group feeding the homeless, their primary concern is the fact that those involved don't have the appropriate permit to operate in a public place.

For the past three weeks Claire Chapman, with the help of friends and family, has been providing free meals and clothing to those who cannot afford it in Garden Place.

Every night from 6.30pm to 7.30pm she serves a meal and hands out donated clothing. On average 60 to 70 people turn up each night.

The mix of people changes every night and it's not just adults, there are teenagers too.

"It's unbelievable, the faces just change all the time," she said.

But council want her to move out of Garden Place and outside of the CBD.

"The council has made it very clear to me that they do not want these people here."

She made an application to use the rooms at the Celebrating Age Centre on Victoria St, but she says it was rejected by council.

Instead, she said, they suggested contacting other organisations which provided help to see if they had an area they could use.

But council spokeswoman Stephanie Slattery yesterday said the council was "striving to find a solution which will enable them to provide their service in an appropriate location, and with the necessary permit and approvals".

Currently, they did not have the necessary permit to operate in a public place.

Ms Slattery said the council did not flat out reject Mrs Chapman's request to use the Celebrating Age Centre, instead offering her the chance to use the facility's dining room on a Sunday evening.

She said the council wasn't acting out of a want to keep the homeless out of Garden Place.

"A complaint has been received from the public. Primarily, this is a regulatory matter."

Homeless man Sydney William Smylie says Mrs Chapman's food was a "lifesaver".

Three weeks ago Mr Smylie, who is staying at the Hamilton night shelter, had his wallet stolen. It contained his bank card, ID and his recently drawn pension. For two weeks the only meals he ate were those provided by Mrs Chapman.

"It's becoming more and more difficult for them to provide us with food because the council is pressuring them to move away," he said.

"The shops are closed, there's no one there except them and they are making sure we clean up afterwards to not leave any mess there for them [the council] to complain about but they're still pressuring them to move away from there."

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Mrs Chapman said it was her twin Forrest who first told her about the growing number of homeless in the CBD.

"They seem to be the forgotten people in the city. The council's embarrassed by them and it concerns me," she said.

She believed the problem would only get worse with the closure of the Hamilton East motor camp where many low income families were living.

"There is not enough accommodation in Hamilton for these people."

Since starting up, lots of people had pitched in from the community to help, donating clothes, food and also helping with the cooking of meals.

Last week her husband started a Facebook page called Hamilton Homeless to help promote their cause and field donations.

Mrs Chapman spends around 12 hours a week fundraising outside supermarkets to raise the $600-$700 they need for a week's meals.

While there are several religious and community organisations providing meals throughout the week, none of them provide a free meal regularly.

The meals usually cost $1-$2, but for some this is still money they will beg for.

- Waikato Times

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