Local men Patariki Tawhiao, left, and Tama Manuel, right, with Male Room researcher Philip Chapman. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Homelessness on rise in Nelson

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The number of homeless people living in Nelson has nearly doubled in the past decade.

This startling statistic illustrates a need for action and a local group has been delving into the complexities of the issue in a bid to reduce these numbers.

The Male Room, a Nelson based men’s support and advocacy service, presented their findings at Nelson City Council on Wednesday morning.
A number of local volunteers, charities and organisations gathered to discuss barriers and solutions to the national crisis.

According to the University of Otago, which analysed the census data from 2013, more than 40,000 people were homeless in 2016.

This includes those living rough, in emergency housing or living in substandard garages.

The report, called “The Word from the Street” explored the experiences of 35 local homeless men living in Nelson and their backgrounds, as well as their hopes for the future.

It said that drugs and mental health were prominent factors in creating the homeless population.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese says homelessness is a complex issue and it is the moral responsibility of us all to address it.

“We have never had it on this scale before.”

She says we are a nation that prides itself as pioneers of welfare, and that Nelson ranks just below Auckland and Wellington in having experienced the biggest increase in homeless numbers since 2006.

During the period, the number of homeless people in Nelson has risen from 242 to 417.
There are 78 families experiencing accommodation hardship.

“We are determined to make changes.”

Of the 142 houses the government has committed to building throughout New Zealand, Nelson will see seven new Housing NZ houses.

Rachel says, while this is a start, it will require considerable community collaboration to house these people, a challenge Rachel is confident Nelson will step up to.

She says it took great courage for the men attending the meeting to talk about the circumstances which led to their homelessness.

Tama Manuel and Patariki Tawhiao shared their stories and the battles they face on the streets of Nelson.
Patariki has been a “happy camper” for the past 10 years.

He doesn’t like the term homeless because of the abuse he receives on the streets.

“I’ll be walking down the road and pick some food at the bin and people will abuse me, call me a bum and scum.”

Patariki says the majority of the issues he encounters are caused by youth. He sleeps with “one eye open” after a savage attack while he was staying under a bridge.

“A couple of young kids just beat me up and smashed a rock on my back, it gave me major anxiety.”

Patariki is epileptic, a condition that prevents him obtaining employment.

While he says there are plenty of great organisations that support him, the local youth are making life dangerous and difficult for him. “They steal my food, my gas cookers, I have nothing, but they still take it.”

Patariki has lived in cars, on couches and shelters in Nelson, Wellington and Palmerston North.

He says the latter two are by far the more dangerous cities to be homeless in.

“There have beggars there and they just about beat you up if you don’t give them anything.”

Patariki says, while some shopkeepers don’t let him inside and he is hurled the odd insult, he is generally treated with respect by the majority of the population.

Tama says he broke up with his family, found the bottle and the rest is history.