The other night walking along Auckland’s Karangahape Road, I was asked by a chap sitting on the footpath with a container for coins if I could spare something as he had no money for food or accommodation, a fairly common sight around the streets of many cities the world over.
Checking my pockets I realised I had no cash on me, instead of shrugging him off I stopped and asked if he’d been to see if he could get into the night shelter, he had but the doors were closed, it was full.
I double checked to make sure he wasn’t trying it on and wanted money for something else – alcohol or drugs. As I was going to the shop I asked if I could him something to eat, his eyes lit up, he asked if I could get him a pie – easy.
I had been wondering what to cook for dinner and decided on having takeaways – so added a chicken fried rice to my order. Walking back along the street I handed the rice dish to the chap, his eyes lit up, a broad smile appeared – he stood to shake my hand and a genuine thank you ensued.
Stopping for a chat, I found out he’d been in and out of institutions for a number of years; some of this caused by his previous drug addictions others for his brushes with the law. So it wasn’t all society’s fault he was on the street, but society had appeared to let him down by not having enough support mechanisms in place to help him once he’d come out of institutions.
It took a while before he gave me his name – perhaps this was a trust thing, it turned out his name is Michael. There’s another barrier down when someone give you their name.
Michael had been receiving a benefit, but hadn’t completed the necessary forms for the continuation of the benefits and without any income to support himself, to house or feed himself he had taken to living on the street and had done so now for what he thought was three years.
After mentioning that I work with community organizations and that my understanding that even though they’re all pushed to deliver their services to everyone in need I was sure there was some way he could get help.
Offering to meet him the next day and go along to WINZ and calling Lifewise to see what could be done to help – he was keen, we agreed to meet the next morning; sadly he never turned up at the place we were to meet. Maybe something had happened to him, maybe he felt he was imposing on the support being offered, I kept my eye out for him over the next few days – but didn’t see him.
Then walking down Queen St who should be sitting outside McDonalds hand out looking for change for something to eat – none other than Michael. I stopped and asked how he was doing and why he hadn’t met me as we’d arranged, I was right – he said he felt as though he were imposing on my generosity. Sad really as he wasn’t imposing I was doing this because I wanted to. I had some coin in my pocket and offered it to him, he refused saying that I’d fed him sufficiently and he didn’t want to abuse my generosity – wrong again, I wanted to help this guy as he seemed genuine and in need.
I know that there is help out there, Lifewise for one I’m sure could have helped him in some way, but I sincerely believe Michael was genuine in his belief that his asking for help was not only hard for him, that he felt as though he’d been let down before – but more so that he felt he would be imposing not only on me but also on the support Lifewise may have been able to give him.
What am I going to do about this? I’m keeping my eyes open for him, and when I see him I stop and chat – I want to know he’s ok, that he’s not starving and that he’s finding somewhere to put his head down at night.
Still prompting him to make contact with people who can help, nagging him to pick his bits up and get along to see someone – he always smiles and says he’s doing something to change his situation, I hope he is.
We can all do something to help people like Michael and the work that organizations like Lifewise do in the community, sure we may feel that people need to do something to help themselves first, but the reality is that when you hear stories like Michael’s where he felt he’d been let down, and now feels as though he’d be an imposition you have to wonder if there’s more that we can do to help.
What can we do – well, I’m going to do more to help – I’m going to grab my sleeping bag and am going to sleep rough for a night to help Lifewise fight the battle to end homelessness in Auckland.
One June 28 I will be doing the Big Sleepout and joining a group of others sleeping rough on nothing more than a sheet of cardboard, it won’t be easy, I’m sure it will be damn cold – but it’s a small sacrifice to give up my warm bed, to experience what it’s like to sleep rough – and in doing so I’m aiming to help raise funds to help Lifewise.
What’s the Big Sleepout ?
The Lifewise Big Sleepout is an annual event aimed at raising serious funds and channelling significant attention in the direction of solving homelessness in the city of Auckland. It is a night where influential New Zealanders forgo their creature comforts for a night of ‘rough sleeping’ as a way of making a public stand against homelessness. Put simply, it’s a no-holds-barred approach to exposing what is often an invisible issue.
The ultimate aim of the Lifewise Big Sleepout is bring an end to homelessness – for good. The continued success of this event goes a long way to meeting this highly achievable goal. As a result, we remain equipped to address the issue of homelessness at every level of influence – meeting the immediate and the long-term needs of the homeless while at the same time working strategically with non-government and government bodies to find solutions. Check out The Issue for more info on the work of Lifewise in this area.
Check out the Big Sleepout video the brilliantly talented Eric Young, Prime News TV presenter donated his time and talent to this project