QLDC u-turn imposes $400 fines on Queenstown's working homeless
Multiple Queenstown workers sleeping in their vehicles are being issued with $400 freedom camping fines, despite previous statements from the Queenstown Lakes District Council that the homeless would not be targets of enforcement officers.
Bart (surname withheld) has been constantly searching for permanent accommodation since arriving in Queenstown in May on a working holiday visa. He's stayed in increasingly expensive and busy hostels, couch-surfed and spent many winter nights in his self-contained van.
On July 23, after a night in his vehicle, he woke up to a $400 infringement notice on his dashboard. He'd parked up outside his workplace in Frankton, finishing late in the evening, and due to start early in the morning.
Hearing that homeless individuals would be able to explain their situation to the council and expect some leniency, he contested the fine online using the council's parking waiver form.
"I declare that I’m unable to find accommodation despite looking constantly, and sleeping in a car is not in any sense voluntary. I do it out of necessity. I wish I wouldn’t, but I am currently homeless," he told the council.
Instead of waiving the fine, the council challenged the validity of his homeless claim.
The regulatory officer asked for a letter from a case worker at Happiness House or Salvation Army, two local social service providers, to support his declaration.
“Whilst we do understand you may have difficulty finding appropriate accommodation this does not signify you are homeless. There are multiple other accommodation options within Queenstown,” the response from the council officer says.
Bart was also told by the staffer he showed "negligence to the restrictions" and should have parked at one of the spots at the Responsible Camping Strategy spots close to the Queenstown CBD - although it is still unclear to Crux what these spots are and if Bart's vehicle qualified for use of them.
The council is unwilling to waive Bart's fine, and Crux is aware of ten more homeless Queenstown residents trying to have their $400 infringements waived too.
Freedom camping rules across the country have been beefed up in recent months, but with assurances people genuinely stuck without a home would not be penalised by them.
In announcing the legislative change, QLDC community partnerships manager Marie Day promised enforcement officers would not be directing their efforts at anyone experiencing homelessness, saying the council had "always applied discretion in this area and looked to direct people to appropriate social service agencies rather than penalising them”.
Speaking with Crux on the subject prior to the new legislation taking effect, Mayor Glyn Lewers encouraged anyone caught sleeping rough in their vehicles in his district to contest any fine.
Crux has attempted to contact the mayor today to clarify his position.
The new Self-Contained Motor Vehicles Legislation Act contains a specific exemption stating that a person is not freedom camping if they are unable to live in appropriate residential accommodation unless they are in New Zealand on a visitor visa.
The new legislation has also seen freedom camping fines double from $200 to $400.
Bart is leaving Queenstown today, due to the housing crisis and the town’s inability to provide a warm, dry place to sleep.
He hopes that after leaving Queenstown, he’ll be able to see his time here as a “great adventure”, but this hasn’t happened yet.
“I’m too tired. Maybe it will be easier when it’s warmer and more doable, but I didn’t enjoy the van life.”
He says sleeping in a hostel dorm isn't much better, with people constantly coming and going throughout the night and disturbing his sleep.
He has until September 15 to pay the infringement notice, otherwise, the matter will be escalated to the Ministry of Justice for court action, incurring an additional fee.
He says he’ll pay the fine, and he doesn't want to “cause any trouble”.