Two primary schools and a social services agency in Greerton have added their voices to a growing chorus of community concern about homelessness and intimidating beggars in the village.
One school is locking its gates overnight to stop homeless people from sleeping there, and another reports a mother and child were followed and asked for money at nearby Morland Fox Park.
The deputy principal of Greerton Village School said they decided to start locking the school gates at night and over weekends after children were arriving early to find homeless people – some "under the influence of drugs and alcohol" – still on school grounds.
He said people had been sleeping at the school for years but the issue had got worse.
It became a safety issue and staff were having to move the sleepers on.
Parents at the school were alerted early last month when the decision was made to start locking the gates.
Tommy Wilson of Te Tuinga Whanau Social Services Trust said he started flagging the issue in Greerton six months ago and is now holding a meeting to address it.
Neighbours had reported having to call the police because of fighting over who was sleeping where at the school, he said.
Greenpark School principal Gareth Scholes informed his school community about safety concerns at nearby Morland Fox Park last week.
"Our issue is that there's up to a dozen people camped out under the Morland Fox Park clubrooms," he said yesterday.
To manage traffic congestion, the school had been working with the council and using the park as a drop-off and pick-up area for families.
In a Facebook post to parents last week, Scholes urged parents to talk to their children about keeping safe if they were walking past the park or being collected from there.
He told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday at least three parents had come forward with concerns.
"We had a parent yesterday who was down at the Morland Fox playground with a child and was followed and asked for money. This made the parent and child feel uncomfortable and they left."
Another school parent who runs football at the park had also raised safety concerns because children often wait there before and after training for parents to pick them up and also use the facilities under the clubhouse.
Scholes said the school was working with police and the council to find a solution.
"I know this is a wider community issue – if they move on they'll obviously go somewhere else."
But the park should be free for children to play sport and use the playground safely, he said.
Tommy Wilson of Te Tuinga Whanau Social Services Trust said he started flagging the issue six months ago. He and his staff had since seen many concerning incidents.
"It doesn't seem to be improving. It's a sign of the desperation of people feeding drug habits."
Wilson believed the problems were linked to gangs preying on vulnerable people.
Like the neighbouring school, the trust had started chaining up its gates at night to stop people gathering at the property and "getting up to no good".
Morland Fox Park was a spot where "idle" people gathered, Wilson said, including homeless, beggars and "people who should be in school".
Wilson said the solution lay not in more government money or services – Tauranga was "blessed" to have many ways to help people in need – but in a community-led response.
It should start now, while the issue had public momentum.
"Te Tuinga is really keen to take a lead on this, and to lead a community meeting.
"Let's do something good."
Greerton community meeting
Outside the Greerton Library
Discuss a community-led response to issues related to begging
Led by Te Tuinga Whanau, all welcome