A homeless man’s perspective on housing

As I was clambering to the car with my arms full of groceries, because I was too ashamed to purchase yet another new bag, a man called out to me.

Have you got any spare change, Miss? 

I normally don’t stop - I’ll admit it - but on this occasion I felt compelled to. I juggled my armsful to wrest my card purse from the pocket of my coat and discharged the measly dollar fifty from within. The man, sitting against the shop window and shrouded in a pink dressing gown, thanked me. And then he struck up conversation, asking what I did for a job. A quarter of an hour later, after we’d chatted about homelessness and the man’s vision for building more supportive communities in Aotearoa, I lugged my stuff to my car, touched and encouraged by the words of this inspiring soul I had just met, and feeling more than a bit sad.

But I also felt immensely grateful. Grateful that, as a child, I had the benefit of my parents’ good health, and the best years of their lives so my siblings and I were never without. Grateful that as an adult, I have been lucky to have had good opportunities for employment, and grateful to have a supportive partner who is a good dad to our kids. Grateful for the roof over our family’s heads, and the help we had along the way. I’m really lucky.

I am acutely aware of how life can change in an instant, even when you seem to have it all going for you. I’ve seen it, among my friends and relatives, in my community, and in the multiple tragedies suffered by the people of Christchurch. How suddenly that feeling of security; that great plan for the future, can be spirited away as if it never existed. 

Joseph Takairangi told me he had sat alongside wealthy people who had hit rock bottom for a moment, and found themselves bereft of income and a place to call home. He had been there at the bottom for too long, Joseph lamented, as if he didn’t have much hope for his own situation. But he said he would keep on being a voice for those homeless in need, to advocate for a real pathway forward to where everyone could have a home. He spoke to me aspirationally of his hopes for being a bridge between the homeless “and the homed”, through his community work to educate people on the realities of rough sleeping. He told me that with a bit of elbow grease, housing can be fixed so that Aotearoa, which “belongs to me, to you, and to everyone”, could be a healthy place - a Turangawaewae for us all. He spoke of a “no-fuss” system he envisioned to get everyone into a home, no strings attached, because it’s a basic human right. 

With the lack of infrastructure to support a growing and ageing population, housing has become an exclusive, almost gold rush-like, game of Monopoly, and the richest have all the control. We haven’t allocated resourcing in a way that has kept up with the need, there is a desperate lack within the state housing system and solutions seem to be coming at a snail’s pace. We have even reduced the term ‘housing’ to something that’s purely mechanical, when we should be referring to homes, and need.

Various obstacles exist that exacerbate the impacts of a lack of affordable housing solutions, particularly for families on low incomes. Children in families who rent and struggle financially, may be shifted from place to place as landlords dictate their outcomes, welfare payments are too low to adequately support those who need them, jobs that pay fairly to make life better are few and far between. Discrimination exists at every turn, even in the way wealth is redistributed through tax credits. This is an even greater kick in the guts for people who struggle with the cost of a home, and can’t find adequate work, or aren’t able to and need ongoing social assistance. Despair proliferates, and along with it the crisis of ill-health that thwarts the availability and presentation of opportunities.

These are all the conditions for a perfect storm in which homelessness, including among families and children, is becoming normal. The risks for children are high.

But Joseph Takairangi told me today that he has hope. And he truly believes that things can be better. So if Joseph, a man who has felt it all throughout his life, believes that sooner rather than later, we’ll have solutions that mean every adult and child in Aotearoa has a safe, secure and stable home, and an income that provides them quality of life, and the chance to flourish, I feel more hopeful too. I hope he’s right.

Image credit: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels