Plan to help business struggling with beggars and the homeless

City councillor Anne Galloway says people begging along Hereford St does not give the perception of safety. PHOTO: MARTIN HUNTER

Trained staff could be employed to make first contact with homeless people to help get them into housing, in a plan being welcomed by central city businesses.

The city council, Central City Business Association, social agencies and businesses have been working on a plan to make the area safer and get homeless people and beggars the help they need.

Reinstating the ambassador programme, which was set up in 2007 and saw security guards in red jackets patrol the central city, is being investigated.

It could include specially trained staff walking around and speaking with beggars and homeless people to see what their situation is, and if they needed a home.

It would tie in with the Housing First initiative, which will get people into homes, and then support them with any other issues they may be facing.

“We have identified the fact if there is somebody sitting in a hotel doorway, the hotel owner has no idea who to call or what to do,” city councillor and Safer Christchurch Strategy Committee chairwoman Anne Galloway said.

“That’s where the ambassadors come in – they are a frontline person out there who will make first contact with people on the street.

“They start the process from the footpath to the whare.”

In the past, central city businesses had been concerned with the number of homeless people and beggars in the area, saying some could intimidate customers and staff.

Cr Galloway said these were “our people” and the group wanted to approach the situation compassionately.

“But we also want people to feel safe in the central city and unfortunately having people on the street along Hereford St for example, does not give a perception of safety.”

Cr Galloway said there was still a lot of work to be done on the idea, but it was going
to happen “in one form or another.”

The staff would also help curb other anti-social behaviour, be the “eyes and ears” of police, and help tourists and visitors.

The Central City Business Association has asked for about $200,000 to be allocated in the city council’s budget each year for the programme to be reinstated.

Association manager Paul Lonsdale said it would manage anti-social problems, some of which would start to arise as the central city changed.

“We want a safe central city that people can feel comfortable walking around in at any time of the day,” he said.

“If anti-social behaviour is left unattended, it increases.”

City councillor and Development Forum chairman Jamie Gough said often homeless people or beggars had an adverse impact on businesses as it was not a good look.

He said the ambassador programme would work well.

“They would be perfectly placed being able to interact with people facing a raft of issues being homeless people or begging,” he said.

“There’s often a lot more to
it than simply not having a home.”

Currently, there is no funding set aside in the city council’s draft Long Term Plan.

City councillors would have to decide whether to include it.