At a Tauranga City Council Monitoring Committee meeting yesterday, the Bay of Plenty Times reported that the Greerton Village Community Association manager Sally Benning made particular note of “three or four gentlemen” who are homeless in the area and “two beggars” as causing “problems.” Apparently the problems include sleeping in the alcove of Greerton Hall (incidentally, that would be where Sally’s office is located) and drinking alcohol in what Sally assures are alcohol free zones. These men are such a significant problem that Sally stated it is “rare that a week goes by now that I’m not in touch with the police about those guys.” They have been such a concern to public safety that the Police have trespassed one man twice in six weeks.
I have no formal mathematics qualification (excepting School Certificate), but that’s one out of six men who has been of such concern that they have been trespassed twice in six weeks. Not arrested, but trespassed. A small correction to Sally’s narrative: the Police don’t actually trespass people (unless they were trespassed from the Police station, but that seems unlikely). Retailers and service providers trespass people. And twice in six weeks does not on the face of it seem to be that big an issue. More an annoyance. But not much of an annoyance, as Sally said since the trespass she hasn’t seen those men, didn’t know where they had gone, but hauntingly warns us that it is possible that they would resurface.
All of this seems a bit of a beat up, and we are given an insight into Sally’s actual view of homelessness when she uncharitably pointed the finger at an organisation with “very good intentions” who has had the temerity to feed the hungry and homeless, particularly given they are close to shops run by people who are trying to be good, honest capitalists and can’t do that if the results of neo-liberal economic policies are having soup near their businesses. Why can’t they just starve somewhere away from the main street?
Disgustingly, poor (obviously not THAT kind of poor) Sally has had to don yellow rubber gloves on a Monday morning and pick up rubbish because of the drinking and the begging and the detritus. Detritus that she is clearly sure comes from the four homeless men that she hasn’t seen for some time and doesn’t know where they have gone. They are the Batmans of homelessness; dark knights who sweep in to throw cans and then disappear as the morning sun rises.
It seems to be that the use of the words ‘community’ and ‘village’ in Greerton Village Community Association are meant to be ironic. There seems to be no place for the poor, for the hungry and for the homeless in the vision for Greerton Village: flowering cherry blossoms with artful yarn bombing on a pristine and clean street filled with cars, the walkways greased by fifty dollar notes and a steady flow of goods and services to the affluent, white haired home owners of Greerton. Frankly, the “funky and vibrant” vision for Greerton is really, really white.
The association vision is at odds with the other reality of Greerton: the handful of opportunity shops run by churches, the cheap takeaways providing dinner at cut price rates, alcohol wholesalers with a rumoured loose attitude to the age of supply, bars providing cheap and excessive beverages with a chance of love with your drunk, toothless auntie, and the social service providers supporting the desperate and often brown. That is to say, Greerton has been and remains a social and community hub for the poor, hungry and homeless in the west of Tauranga city.
I was obviously annoyed by Sally’s representation to the Tauranga City Council. But let me be clear that in the main, Greerton Village Community Association runs fantastic community events and Greerton shops are a pleasant place to visit and shop. But none of that has to happen at a distance from the actual residents of Greerton. Whilst the Greerton Village Community Association has aspirations of Greerton being Cherrywood, it’s not. Their attitude here to the significant population in need on their doorstep smacks of snobbery and feigned ignorance, and their community strategy reflects this. Sally and the association clearly don’t feel they need to represent who is actually in Greerton, but more who they would like to be in Greerton.
The four nameless homeless men that Sally accused and belittled before the committee are not treated as human beings, but as symbols of all that threatens a whiter future for Greerton. Whether they exist or not is by the by; Sally was speaking to the sense of fear she and others feel when they look over the barricades of the middle class.