A business owner fed up with feeling intimated and harassed in Christchurch’s CBD has gone as far as paying a patched gang member to address anti-social behaviour.
While some businesses say they feel crime in the central city is declining, Trendez owner Michelle Musgrove says she regrets her decision to move her business from a mall in 2019 to support the rejuvenation of the CBD.
She had needed to go as far as to pay a patched gang member to tell rough sleepers and/or beggars to go away, she said.
Outside her Colombo St shop, by the intersection shared by convenience stores, the bus exchange and an entertainment centre, several people spent their days asleep, asking for money, or keeping to themselves.
* Man who stole handbag from ex-girlfriend issued first strike
* Homeless want synthetic drugs banned, as well as liquor
* Westfield Riccarton mall tenant sour over lease termination
Musgrove and her employees had witnessed criminal behaviour, such as violence and drug use, and believed police were turning a blind eye, she said.
She gave an example of a night in May when a man, caught in security camera footage seen by Stuff, defecated outside her shop then accidentally broke a window pane.
Police told her that after weighing public interest, seriousness, evidence and likelihood of prosecution, they wouldn’t be investigating.
“They could be smoking p outside and the police still won’t do anything,” she said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to just sit there.”
This time a year ago, social services kicked into high gear to rapidly get homeless people off the streets for lockdown. (Video first published March 2021)
Customers sometimes asked to be escorted down the street, and potential customers avoided going into her shop, as “[they] can’t bear to be near these people”.
Abraham Neho, who had slept rough near her shop on and off since 2017, said a lot of bad behaviour was due to a few “bad hustlers”.
“Not everyone [on the street] is homeless.
“I’d say good hustlers are the people who don’t ask [for money]. The bad hustlers impose on your day.”
Neho said his experience with Christchurch locals was mostly positive, though sometimes people did yell at him to go away.
He said he spent his time on Colombo St because “it’s the safest place in town… people know I’m here, there’s CCTV”.
Sleeping on the street wasn’t his choice, he said, but that it could be difficult not to fall through the cracks.
Being on the street, he struggled to keep a phone or photo ID on him without it being stolen. He said his days rolled into one and he forgot about appointments. All of this meant “you could be on the [housing] list all your life”, he said.
Stopping anti-social behaviour, or deterring it, was the mission of the Central City Business Association’s (CCBA) security patrol, paid for by members, which included Trendez.
Association chairperson Annabel Turley hadn’t heard of Trendez’s complaints. Musgrove confirmed they hadn’t asked for help.
Surrounding businesses believed criminal and anti-social behaviour was on the decline due to this patrol and an increased police presence.
Two doors from Trendez, Kosco manager Jasmine Park said the patrol made her and her staff feel “much safer”.
“It can be hard, there are so many teenagers and homeless. The harassment… some days I don’t want to work.”
But she loved working in the city centre because of its fast-paced nature, and the loyalty of her customers.
If the shop became too busy, or workers felt suspicious that a group of teens may shoplift, she called the CCBA safety team to stand at the door.
“It’s just kids. Some are bad but so many are good kids. I get to see them growing and become men and women, sometimes they come and work for me,” she said.
Terry Hao, who’s owned the Muffin Break cafe at the bus exchange for five years, had every reason to question the future of his business’ location.
In October, a 61-year-old was assaulted and later died of his injuries at the bus exchange next door.
However, like Park, he felt the new police patrols, which were introduced in October, as well as the private security patrols, had made a noticeable difference.
Now his main concern was getting customers in the door. “I am hopeful. The city will be getting more tourists now… still a long way to go.”