Tim Bayston's vehicle has been stuck in Tahunanui since November. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Down and out in Nelson

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Tim Bayston knows he has burned some bridges in his time, but he also reckons he deserves a break.

When he turned up at the Tahunanui Community Hub in late November, he was in severe pain and had not eaten in four days.

“He was a train wreck,” says the hub manager Mark French. “He was really bad.”

Tim had found himself in a difficult position. He was living in a van, parked up in Tahunanui. He was paying it off $150 a week but, after he bought it, someone vandalised it.

They broke the windscreen, cut the tyres and snapped off the wipers.

“I’m mechanically minded so I can fix some of that, but not the tyres or windscreen,” says Tim.

Tim has severe medical issues, partially from a lifetime as a panel beater and sprayer in the days where protective masks were not used.

As a result, he has severe breathing difficulties, chronic pain, as well as mental health issues.

He is also on the methadone programme.

He describes himself as “stubborn” and “pig headed” but means well.

While he has been in and out of jail over his 56 years, he says those days are long behind him.

Tim is hoping Work and Income might help pay for the repairs so he can at least move the van.

However, in the six weeks since his van has been immobile, Nelson City Council has fined him several times for illegal camping.

He says council have also threatened to impound the van.

“They said I’ve got to try and help myself. But what do you think I’ve been doing?”

Plenty of businesses and people around Tahunanui have been assisting Tim, including the chemist and doctors, who waived his fees and prescription costs when he was extremely unhealthy.

In the past two months he also has put on 10kg, thanks to the community centre and the good will of others around Tahunanui.

But Mark is worried that if the council keep hitting him with fines it will undo all the good work he has been doing in getting back his health.

“He is going to be back where he started. It seems a bit of a shame if he ends up where he came from. There needs to be a bit more awareness around people who are trying to help themselves.”

Tim is on the waiting list for emergency housing but there is no timeline on when a place might become available.

“Everything is magnified when you haven’t got a home. You have not just got your health to worry about, got car, food to worry about. There are heaps of things.”

His van did have a DVD player in it that would help take his mind off his troubles.

Memories of his son’s suicide six years ago, during the Christmas period, loom large.

But Tim hasn’t got the petrol to charge the battery.

“When you are lying there, and you have nothing to keep you occupied it can be pretty dark.”

In the meantime, Tim says he just needs some time to get his van going.

“It means I can move on, but I’ll still be no better off housing wise. I just need a bit of a break.”

Council group manager environmental management Clare Barton says they were informed about “a man living in a damaged van on Beach Road after receiving numerous complaints earlier this month”.

He was informed he is in breach of the freedom camping bylaw as the vehicle he is staying in is not self-contained.

Council then contacted the Ministry of Social Development to try and find safe, alternative accommodation for him.

“Council takes homelessness as an issue very seriously. Services such as Tahunanui Community Hub, Kai Rescue and the Male Room are supported by Council funds, and do a wonderful job of providing support to those in need.”

MSD Regional Commissioner, Craig Churchill, says that “no one needs to sleep rough”.

“We are here to help and have assistance available for people to help them with emergency housing and accommodation costs.

“We encourage anyone who needs help to get in touch so we can discuss their situation and what assistance might be available.”