Food service for vagrants homeless

HARRY PEARL AND LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 05:00 12/04/2014
Hamilton Homeless organiser Claire Chapman
NICK REED/Fairfax NZ
WIT'S END: Hamilton Homeless organiser Claire Chapman now has no place to go to serve her meals to the homeless.

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A group feeding Hamilton's homeless are being shunted around the city after they were told by the city council that they could not operate in a public space without a permit.

For the past six weeks, Claire Chapman, with the help of friends, family and an ever-expanding team of Hamilton Homeless volunteers, has been providing free meals and clothing to the local needy.

But since the the group was booted out of Garden Place by Hamilton City Council late last month, they have been as transient as many of the people they help - moving between parking lots and parks, often without shelter.

They've dished up to the homeless in Garden Place, Nisbet St in the CBD, and recently tried out Norris Park in Ward St.

After two nights, Chapman said the council warned her to stop serving in Norris Park.

"And she [council spokesperson] just said that five times and basically I said: ‘What, am I going to get arrested or is there going to be a big fine from one of your bylaws?'

"There's nowhere where we can go," she said.

The council said it was willing to work with Chapman so she could continue her service but she had to stop until she had the correct permission.

"We are solutions-driven on this, and will continue to work with Mrs Chapman until we have agreed on a satisfactory arrangement," community development and leisure manager Deanne McManus-Emery said.

She said the council had asked Chapman to stop serving in Ward Park until she had the correct permission, and Chapman was advised that the council would work with her so she could continue.

But Chapman said she couldn't disappoint the group of 50-60 waiting for a meal last night.

The situation was "ridiculous" and she was frustrated with the paperwork and costs necessary to get permission.

"I can't see why the council should be fighting something so simple as taking some blimmin soup into the blimmin town each night with a group of volunteers and feeding these people and cleaning totally thoroughly up after them and then dispersing. And they disperse, too," she said.

Hamilton Homeless had been inundated with potential volunteers and received food donations from companies.

The group feeds about 60-70 people each night and has a pool of about 100 volunteers to call on on any one evening.

Chapman said the group had been "hopping around" Nisbet St in the CBD for the past three weeks.

The group set up their makeshift soup kitchen in several spots, including car parks owned by The Church of Latter Day Saints and Wintec, but were told to move on.

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At Norris Park on Ward St they had to shelter under trees when it rained.

"If it pours down we have about 100 people that will get drenched."

The group needed somewhere safe and dry to operate from and Chapman hoped there was a "benevolent" landlord in the community who could help.

The group could afford to pay up to $500 a week, she said.

So far they had applied for facilities and been rejected, and the only building offered was opposite strip club Firecats - they turned it down.

The council asked the group to move on from Garden Place in March after receiving complaints about the homeless being fed in the square.

The team of volunteers were told they did not have the necessary permit to operate in a public space.

Since then council staff had met with Chapman and explained its concerns, McManus-Emery said.

"During that meeting, we explained to Mrs Chapman that council's main concern is public safety and adherence to the relevant bylaws and legislation, and that the activity carries risks," she said.

"At that time, Mrs Chapman agreed not to deliver her service in Garden Place - or any other public place - and that if she revived her service in a public place council would have to look at enforcement action."

McManus-Emery said Chapman was provided with contact details for other groups which delivered assistance to needy people in the city, and encouraged her to get in touch with them.

- Waikato Times

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