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Desperate times – desperate measures

Retailers in Masterton’s central business district could be forgiven for feeling under siege, following a recent spate of shoplifting.

A group of retailers have now applied for a trespass notice after being subjected to verbal abuse from an alleged rough sleeper.

This latest problem has highlighted a
glaring gap in the system, with multiple organisations contacted by the Times-Age sidestepping the issue.

Queen St businesses owners, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were at a loss on how to deal with the man, with at least one locking their shop door “to keep staff safe”.

“It seems like someone new to town who appears to be homeless, acting in an aggressive manner down the street.

“He has been popping his head through the door. It’s definitely threatening behaviour, and there is swearing.”

The shop owner said she had not experienced anything like it in her 10 years in Masterton, and police had trespassed him from the store.

Another retailer suspected underlying mental health issues were at play and said the district council should be doing more to prevent rough sleepers in the CBD.

“Council needs to put bylaws in place to prevent it. Queen St is their domain, but they say it’s not their problem, it’s a police matter.

“There should be agencies set up, because where does he go now? Is he just going to be in the cell for six hours and then released? There should be policies in place.”

Last week, police were seen escorting the man from Queen St, after allegedly abusing staff at a nearby cafe.

When contacted about the incident, police said. rough sleeping, begging and being homeless were not criminal offences.

However, a spokesperson said police were occasionally called to deal with matters of public disorder or complaints about antisocial behaviour.

“If you are concerned about someone who is begging or rough sleeping, we would encourage you to contact the Masterton District Council, which can connect people to support.”

Masterton District Council said a bylaw was unlikely to be a solution for retailers: “Such steps have not been successful in other parts of the county. Nor is homelessness covered by freedom camping legislation.

“Where behaviour is threatening or dangerous, the police should be called. Where assistance is required from other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Social Development [MSD] the council will aim to facilitate this.”

However, after requesting information from MSD about services available to rough sleepers in Masterton, the Times-Age was directed to the MSD website and encouraged to contact charitable organisations.

Masterton resident Lyn Tankersley, who is part of a committee agitating for a night refuge on Bannister St, said the reality was that there was no support system for
the alleged rough sleeper.

“Basically, what will probably happen is he will do something really outlandish, get arrested by police and go into a mental health facility.

“There is nothing for him. He doesn’t have anywhere to go except the street.”

Tankersley said if the night refuge, Kim’s Way, were up and running, the man would be more than welcome, but this was unlikely for the next couple of months.

She said the aim was to have the refuge ready by winter.

    Donations to support the night refuge can be made to: 03-0687-0325222-00 with the reference Kim’s Way.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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