Nelson homeless man Jason McCutcheon has been told to stay away from his usual sleeping area. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Jason loses battle for the bench

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Nelson homeless man Jason McCutcheon has been suffering sleepless nights on the street after his make-shift bed was given a make-over.

Jason has made the benches outside the Nelson Provincial Museum his home for the past several months causing a stir of controversy.

The museum received a number of complaints about Jason and has now taken action.

Metal armrests have been installed at one-metre intervals along the benches, preventing anyone from lying down.

However, museum management say the change is part of a larger upgrade to the exterior of the building and is not about dissuading Jason from sleeping there.

Other planned works for the museum include improvements to the roof garden, new retail shop fitting, improvements to the air conditioning, and activation of the kerbside space.

Jason says it is now impossible to sleep on the benches as they are, and he is not sure where he will go.

“You’d have to do it standing up, so I haven’t really been sleeping.”

In October last year, the Nelson City Council confiscated Jason’s belongings, which were outside the museum, as part of a bylaw to discourage continual rough sleeping in the central city.

In 2017, the council brought in a new “City Amenity Bylaw” that sought to mitigate some of the issues caused by Lewis Stanton’s long-running protest outside Farmers on Trafalgar St.

Under the bylaw, sleeping or otherwise occupying a footpath or road at night for two or more hours requires permission.

Obstructing window displays and/or signage is also forbidden.

Despite the confiscation and the bench renovation Jason is still keen to keep staying at his “home”.

Museum chief executive Lucinda Blakely-Jimson did not respond to requests for comment, but has previously said that the museum recognise that homelessness in any form and rough sleeping is not the best outcome for any Nelson resident.

“We are hoping that the council will be able to find a healthier and safer option for Jason.”

A number of accommodation offers have been put forward to Jason but he always declines, saying he prefers to be on the street.

“This is my home.”

Before arriving in Nelson earlier last year, Jason says he had not slept rough before, but part of the charm was that “no one is in charge of me”.

He says the ongoing bench battle has been mentally and physically exhausting but still plans to stay put on the Nelson street.

Jason says he is becoming increasingly frustrated by people questioning his accommodation choice.

“Why do they even care? I’m not hurting anyone.

“People want to know why I live like this, you can’t buy freedom.”