5 Sep 2008

Auckland mayor defends councillor's stand on homeless

8:52 am on 5 September 2008

Auckland City mayor John Banks is standing by a councillor who has asked officials to look at how homeless people can be removed from the central city, saying the problem has to be faced.

Community Services Committee chairman Paul Goldsmith says it is unacceptable for vagrants to be seen on the city's streets, and Aucklanders have had enough of what he calls the blight on the city.

Mr Goldsmith says he has asked council officers to investigate how homeless people can be removed from the central city area.

He is not ruling out the possibility of arresting vagrants, and says the council is determined to improve the situation.

Mr Goldsmith's comments have been criticised by community groups and the Green Party.

Auckland city mayor John Banks, who says he was once homeless himself, says the council has been tolerant of vagrants and treated them with respect.

He says the council is not treating the homeless as an enemy, but there is a problem with some people abusing pedestrians and "lying in pools of urine".

Mr Banks says the council receives hundreds of complaints regarding behaviour which he says in some cases is shocking, and the government has a responsibility to do more.

John Banks says the council is already putting money into initiatives for homeless people, and is prepared to looking at increasing the amount.

Council officers will report back to the Community Services Committee later in September.

Criticism from community, mental health groups

The Auckland City Mission says the homeless will be further marginalised if they are arrested or removed from the CBD.

City Missioner Diane Robertson says more resources should be dedicated to help reduce the number of homeless people in the community.

Organisers of a major conference on mental health are appalled at Mr Goldsmith's comments and are concerned about the disregard being shown for homeless people.

The international Mental Health Services Conference is currently being held in the same part of Auckland's city centre.

David Lui, a Pacific health consultant who is attending, says Mr Goldsmith's comments are a typical knee-jerk reaction.

"We reach for the stick to hit the most vulnerable rather than reaching out with a helping hand to those whose situations are sometimes as a result of something that is no fault of their own."

Mr Lui says the council should be talking to health professionals who understand the situation, so they can come up with a solution that actually works.