Hamilton set to tackle vagrancy

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 25/02/2013

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Hamilton City authorities have launched a series of practical measures to tackle the growing issue of vagrancy, homelessness and anti-social behaviour in the central business district.

It comes after a flurry of complaints from shop owners at the south end of Victoria St.

Gripes include begging for money, eating scraps off used plates, drinking, public defecation, and verbal abuse.

Business owners said the situation, especially around the Riff Raff park, has deteriorated to the point where shoppers feel intimidated and are spending money elsewhere.

Mayor Julie Hardaker promised to tackle the issue earlier this month.

She said police will profile the individuals who have been causing the problems to find out who they are, where they are from, and whether they have a home and social service support.

"There seems to be a permanent group as well as others coming and going," Ms Hardaker said.

"That information will be very useful because once we have it we'll have a better understanding of what the issues are."

Police are also going to conduct a survey of businesses around the wider Riff Raff park area about the homelessness problem to see what is happening, when and what their concerns are.

"I'm pleased about that because until you understand what it is, you can't work out good solutions."

However, Hamilton City Oaks general manager Steven Penrose said the measures were insufficient.

"What they need to do is pass a trespass bylaw, so they can trespass these people. What they are doing is just tinkering around the edges."

He said passing a trespass law would enable police to deal with the situation.

"It may shift them to another part of the city, where they will be a problem as well, but it will move them out of the CBD. You cannot have your premier hospitality precinct with these people in there. It is a bad look."

There are no CCTV cameras in the Riff Raff park, but the Hamilton Central Business Association is discussing funding options with city council staff to install one.

It is fully backed by police and the mayor.

"A camera in Riff Raff would also cover night-time issues into the wee small hours of the morning and that would link in to the command centre," Ms Hardaker said.

The use of volunteer Maori wardens and increased hours for City Safe is also on the cards.

Council staff are also considering removing some seating from Riff Raff park to curb loitering behaviour.

"I've had good discussion with key players in this and again I say, this is a complex issue and a social issue. The key players in this are government agencies and them stepping up and assisting and supporting."

The inter-agency group on homelessness also met last week and is focused on tackling the problem both in the short and long term.

They were developing a more focused action plan, Ms Hardaker said.

"The men's shelter is a good organisation and they play a very good role in this. They have 21 beds and about 14 filled a night.

"They could do a lot more if they had more funding and they are not government funded."

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She said to government-funded social services: "You need to step up here and look at your priorities.

"A number of the homeless have mental health issues and addiction issues. They have fallen through the cracks. It's no use Band-Aiding this. It's about getting the support right to help. And those agencies are responsible for that."

- Waikato Times

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