Marama Davidson: Banning survival

Opinion 03/04/2019
Marama Davidson. Photo: Supplied.

By Marama Davidson, Green Party co-leader.

OPINION: I am thankful for the community organisations who care enough to want to support the people who live on our streets. In my own community in Manurewa, they are out in our town centre every week role modelling leadership of community compassion.

When government fails communities suffer, and the wellbeing of those who fall through safety nets is often left to the kindness of their neighbours.

I absolutely commend the people in the Tauranga who have shown real leadership in setting up the city’s first women’s homeless shelter, while their decision-makers pass bylaws that threaten the safety of the most vulnerable and make life harder.

Tauranga City Council’s decision to ban begging and rough sleeping in storefronts represents a failure to properly address what is a nationwide problem. On the surface this “help them to help themselves” approach tells us that being a public nuisance will not be tolerated, and that people need to earn their keep like the rest of us.

Beneath that however the ban sends a very clear message to the most vulnerable and desperate people in our communities: “you do not belong here, you have not earned the right to exist”.

Is this ban really about stopping begging and rough sleeping, or more about hiding a problem? We already have laws to deal with threatening or abusive behaviour.

This is the face of inequality in Aotearoa that we need to look at. A ban on begging and rough sleeping is a ban on survival. If you don’t want people sleeping on the streets, put a roof over their heads.

We need to address all the causes of inequality and homelessness, not punish those who are bearing the brunt of societies’ failings. There is something deeply disturbing about a society that outlaws asking for help.

Marama Davidson is the Green Party co-leader.