3 Jul 2023

Freedom camping law clarified for homeless

5:01 pm on 3 July 2023
Lindsay Waterfield

Queenstown Housing Initiative co-founder Lindsay Waterfield supports the change. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Homeless people can no longer be inadvertently caught out by freedom camping laws.

Those experiencing homelessness were never meant to be the target of 2011's Freedom Camping Act and that was made clear to councils through advice provided by Local Government New Zealand at the time.

But Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment manager tourism operations and partnerships Dale Elvy said it became clear during public consultation and the select committee process for recent law changes that there were concerns guidance alone was not enough to ensure homeless people did not get caught out by the Act's infringement regime for freedom camping.

"As a result, the law was clarified so that people experiencing homelessness were exempt from infringements relating to freedom camping, such as having a current certificate for their vehicle," Elvy said.

"This exemption only relates to the activity of freedom camping. For example, there is no exemption for any person discharging a harmful substance on local authority or conservation land and interfering with an enforcement officer while they carry out their duties."

The new law, known as the Self-contained Motor Vehicles Legislation Act, came into effect last month.

"The new law ... also requires the government to review the impact of the law changes on those experiencing homelessness two years after enactment," Elvy said.

"This is to ensure that the Act is not having negative consequences for those experiencing homelessness."

Queenstown Housing Initiative co-founder Lindsay Waterfield said she supported the law change.

The Queenstown Housing Initiative had been helping to find accommodation for people who were sleeping in their vehicles in Queenstown, as well as providing other support for those struggling with Queenstown's rental crisis.

"People are going to be able to maybe sleep a little bit better, even though they are still in their cars, knowing that they are being heard and that people are having their backs and wanting to look out for them," Waterfield said.

Since starting the initiative the issue of those resorting to sleeping in their cars had eased, she said.

"The community has stepped up and are opening their doors to people, which is amazing, but ... on our poll on our Facebook page there's 20 people that have responded saying they are still sleeping in their vehicles.

"So it'll be really good for them to know they can have a stress-free night and not have to worry about having their windows knocked on and being told they have to move on in the middle of the night."

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