Homeless moving out to the suburbs

Vicki Anderson vicki.anderson@stuff.co.nz



Stuff NZ Newspapers



Just days before Christmas a homeless man named Mark wearing unicorn pyjamas and holding a fluffy bear sits outside KFC in central Christchurch. Of no fixed abode, he lives a transient lifestyle and has travelled from Auckland with a friend who is darting between cars stopped at the lights, asking people for spare change. ‘‘I am not like him,’’ says Mark, patting the fluffy bear, ‘‘Beary’’, which cushions him from the concrete he sleeps on. ‘‘I am more lackadaisical. I let people come to me.’’ Once the owner of a successful business, he had moved to the streets seeking ‘‘freedom’’. Mark, who gave permission to be photographed, added that he left Auckland because the sheer numbers of homeless there had been ‘‘too tough’’. Since his arrival in Christchurch, there were four full-time homeless people sleeping in the central city as others, including teens, had been ‘‘moved to the suburbs’’, he said. ‘‘I am just passing through, on my way to Queenstown.’’ Outside the 24-hour bakery on Ferry Rd, a man on synthetics lies, eyes closed, on a mattress, possessions strewn around him. A short distance away, Verity Verster bustles out of the kitchen of the inner city building holding a teatowel on a Sunday night as about 100 homeless and hungry people queue for food. The mother-of-three juggles a young baby with studying for a PhD in social work and running two social initiatives in Christchurch. Kai for the Community offers free weekly meals for the homeless, and is also attended by many working poor and senior citizens. Her more recent initiative is Mums On Meals, which takes home cooked meals into schools in Christchurch’s eastern suburbs. ‘‘When I first started Kai for the Community, it was just me and a small handful of volunteers. What we did was cook in our own homes with our own food and supply it on Sunday.’’ Three years later it has become ‘‘self-catering’’ with different community organisations like Who Is Hussain taking turns to cook. Verster said when discussing homelessness it was important to correctly define it. ‘‘To me homeless is defined as someone with no fixed abode, it is not just those you see on the streets. It is anyone who is couchsurfing to a solo parent living in inappropriate housing.’’ The solution is more nuanced than simply ‘‘getting someone into a home’’ and wraparound services and care are vital. ‘‘I like to say that housing someone who has been long-term homeless is like taking a fish out of water and putting them up a tree and telling them to be a bird. They stay on the streets because that is what they know and understand.’’ This week a 43-year-old man was charged with the murder of Barbara Campbell, a terminally ill homeless woman who preferred to be called Rose, who was allegedly attacked outside a shop in New Brighton. She had been living on the streets for 15 years and had only moved to that location two weeks ago. She had recenty indicated a willingness to engage with Housing First. Social media posts indicated some people were intending to make a tribute in some capacity to Campbell at the site where she lived this morning. Some community members were also attempting to organise a formal blessing. ‘‘It is an incredibly sad situation,’’ Verster said. ‘‘Homelessness is a complex issue. Many homeless are dealing with other issues, including intergenerational trauma or mental health concerns. ‘‘Often there is only a Western view when defining homelessness but for some cultures 10 people in a family living together in a three-bedroom home is not overcrowding. It is important we take a bicultural approach when discussing homelessness.’’ She offered an example of one of her recent ‘‘success stories’’. ‘‘He is a man who has been longterm homeless and recently went into a home. He has, for the first time in his life, cooked himself meatballs,’’ Verster said. ‘‘This is not something he has ever done on the street. To most people making meatballs would not be a big deal but to him, it is a massive achievement and a huge lifestyle change.’’ The number of people seeking food from Kai for the Community has increased since the arrival of Covid19. ‘‘We have gone from 45 to 50 people three years ago to 80 or 90 people who need a meal each week. The need is great.’’