Gisborne council criticised for interaction with homeless man

By Contributor

A Gisborne District Council employee has been criticised for her interaction with a homeless man, which was filmed. Photo / YouTube

By Matthew Rosenberg, Local Democracy Reporter

Gisborne District Council is being criticised for its handling of a homeless community member after a video circulated on social media showing an employee in an altercation with the man.

The video, filmed on the phone of the man involved in the incident, is dated 29 July but received widespread attention this week after being uploaded to popular video sharing app TikTok.

Within 24 hours, it had amassed more than 40,000 views and triggered a media release from the council.

The video shows the unidentified man repeatedly saying "I'm homeless, please stop harassing me" to a council employee who has pulled up next to him in a marked vehicle.

Remaining in her vehicle, the employee warns the man he could be at risk of receiving a fine.

The man repeats "I'm homeless, please stop harassing me" to which the council employee responds "I wonder why", as she winds up her window.

The employee then pulls out her phone and holds it up, appearing to either film or photograph the man, before moving her vehicle forward, in what appears to be a near collision.

An extended version of the video uploaded to YouTube shows the man standing in front of the vehicle while she continues to hold her phone up from inside.

The council has been widely criticised on social media for its handling of the situation, including its subsequent media release and replies to individual comments, many of which support the unidentified man.

One user said the council worker could have dealt with the situation better by showing empathy, and questioned the employee driving towards him.

Some called the handling of the situation embarrassing and unprofessional.

But the council stood by its actions.

"Staff have had numerous dealings with this person, who does not want any help," the council said on Facebook.

"He's been obstructive, abusive, spread lies and allegations through social media channels about staff carrying out their work."

Council director environmental services and protection Helen Montgomery said the council worked with agencies to help those in genuine need of housing assistance and to provide support.

"The person in question has been offered support with his circumstances, but he has refused any help."

The council also said it was responsible for upholding the Freedom Camping Act and the Gisborne District Freedom Camping Bylaw.

These mechanisms were not appropriate for managing homelessness and in most instances no infringements were issued, Montgomery said.

"However, where individuals are causing adverse effects on the environment, such as camping/parking in non-designated areas, littering, lighting fires, defecating in bushes, damaging property etc, we will infringe those responsible."

Homelessness has been highlighted as a major issue in Gisborne of late, with both a shortage of properties and soaring rental prices creating issues.

Last November, a family of seven occupied an empty Kāinga Ora house after being homeless for two years.

In July, a family of four broke into an empty Kāinga Ora house with the help of supporters, even though utilities were disconnected.

Data released by Massey University earlier this year showed that for the 12 months to September 2021, Gisborne's rental costs rose by 32.3 percent, well ahead of second place Taranaki on 18.2 percent.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air