Beyond Punitive Regulation? New Zealand Local Governments' Responses to Homelessness

This article investigates the ways in which New Zealand local authorities respond to homelessness. It finds that while some punitive bylaws targeting homeless people exist, they are not widespread, and in three case study cities are accompanied by efforts to support social service providers. This indicates that New Zealand local authorities are prepared to look at alternatives to address homelessness, as opposed solely to following trends towards the increasing persecution of homeless people. However, cities' attitudes are subject to political whim, and on occasion they articulate an exclusive vision of public space linked to concerns for public safety and city image. Such thinking has led, for example, to homeless people being served with trespass notices by local authorities asserting "ownership" of public space. Nevertheless, the actions of New Zealand cities depart significantly from the dominant approaches seen elsewhere. This may be explained in part by the relative invisibility of homelessness in New Zealand, and by a popular distinction between "good" and "bad" homeless individuals. The net result is a generally positive approach to reducing homelessness by providing appropriate housing and support to those on the streets, complicating any direct application of the critical geographical literature on this issue to the New Zealand context.

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