by KATE MAHONY
St Joseph’s (Upper Hutt) parishioners Teresa and Stewart Homan spent a Friday night dossing down in a carpark in the centre of Wellington on October 10, surrounded by noisy late night revellers, blaring car horns and screaming fire engines sirens.
Upper Hutt St Joseph’s parishioners Stewart Homan (left) and Teresa Homan (second left) with a group of fellow participants from Upper Hutt. Mrs Homan said that in her work she experiences firsthand people struggling to find accommodation.
Around them, others slept in their cars, or on couches or on cardboard. The Upper Hutt couple weren’t homeless. They had opted to sign up for the Salvation Army’s team-based 14-hours homeless event to experience what it must be like for many of the homeless people around New Zealand.
In this case, a major difference was that the couple had security guards patrolling outside the park boundary to keep them safe, as well as medical support on hand.
This was the first time the event, one of a number of similar events in other cities, has been run in New Zealand to mark World Homeless Day.
Mrs Homan said the couple took part in the sleepout to highlight the plight of the homeless. “The issue is bigger than many people realise. The people who live on the streets are just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Salvation Army notes that homeless or housing-deprived people include those living in unsafe and unsuitable
locations such as sheds, garages, tents, caravans and cars, couch surfing, or living in shared housing with other families.
The community who are more commonly thought of as homeless, those sleeping rough on the streets, represent only 20 per cent of those now affected.
(It is estimated that about 50 people regularly sleep on the streets in Wellington alone.)
Mrs Homan, who is service manager at a beneficiaries advocacy service in Upper Hutt, said
she sees all the time people who are struggling between trying to get into social housing and paying exorbitant rents. “Many have to make a decision to pay rent rather than being able to eat.”
Along with the Homans was a broad range of people — from Wellington Mayor Celia Wade and
10 of her council staff , to a business team, to people who have been or are are currently living on the streets.
Sharon Stratford and her partner Alan Ririkori had each brought backpacks loaded with gear, from woollen jumpers to plastic covering and pillows.
They brought exactly what they had used when they spent two and half years living in their car
in Auckland and Wellington, and 18 months on the streets. Ms Stratford, who said they had come to show support to others, explained they had known places to go that would be safe.
But not everyone would.
Ms Stratford slept on a couch outside during the event while Mr Ririkori made a shelter using a flattened cardboard box. The pair now rent a place, and life is very different, with both of them helping out at the Salvation Army’s Hope Centre in Newtown. Ms Stratford made the little cardboard house badges given to each person who signed up for the event.
Two men, who wished to be known only as “Skrff y” and Trevor, said they had lived rough and been homeless and now worked on behalf of the homeless.
Trevor is now the Tumoake, or chairman, of the Wellington Homeless Trust. “Being homeless in the past, we can help people in the same situation,” he said. “Those people who are sleeping
on the streets on cardboard — they are scared. They want to know who they are.” He also provides meals for the homeless on Sundays, the one day many charities are not operating.
Each of the people staying at the carpark were part of teams. Each team raised funds before the event, and would continue for a further two weeks with the aim of raising $5000 a team.
The money will be used to help the homeless into housing.
To donate to the 14 Hours Homeless awareness event fundraiser, visit ht tp://www.givealittle.
co.nz/member/14HOURSHOMELESS Or contact your regional Salvation Army office.