Park-up in Wellington – People speaking against the scourge of homelessness

By   /   June 28, 2016  /   11 Comments

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Wellington, NZ, 26 June – It was a cold and stormy rainy night… No, really, it was – cold, wet, and miserable. The kind of night that a growing number of homeless people – including families – are having to put up with regularly in once-egalitarian Aotearoa-New Zealand.

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Wellington, NZ, 26 June – It was a cold and stormy rainy night… No, really, it was – cold, wet, and miserable. The kind of night that a growing number of homeless people – including families –  are having to put up with regularly in once-egalitarian Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Several dozen cars and between 200 to 300 people – including families with children – braved the chill and intermittent drizzle to make a point about the growing scourge of homelessness in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

The event was organised through Facebook by Sam and Becs. The Wellington event followed a recent, similar “park up” in Auckland on 17 June. Whilst Green and Labour MPs participated in both events, no National MPs attended despite being invited.

The Wellington Cathedral car-park (and surrounding streets) quickly filled with vehicles;

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Each and every car  would contain people sleeping in them overnight. The signage around the area held a simple message;

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The family-symbols on the back of this vehicle indicated how many would be sleeping in it this night;

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Alexia, Claire, Ezra, and Ashton prepared to bunk down for the night. For the youngsters, it was a camping-out adventure. For their older family-members, this was about showing their disapproval of our housing crisis and homelessness.

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Alexia told this blogger that the Park-Up was the first time they had ever done anything of this nature. When asked why, she replied simply;

“There’s just too much homelessness in this country. It’s not good enough.”

She was clearly angered at the problem of homelessness facing many Kiwi families, saying;

“The government’s  not doing enough. Key isn’t doing shit about this problem.”

Alexia’s comments were echoed by one of the organisers, Shannon. She told this blogger that this event was the first political protest she had ever participated in and she had been motivated because her own brother was homeless.

Shannon said that the “Government… what they do is not enough.

A food-tent provided simple, hot food to keep stomachs full and warm for the night, and was cheerfully staffed by volunteers;

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This was one of two barbecues keeping a steady-stream of hot sausages available for the crowd;

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For young people (and some a bit older), face-painting  made the evening a fun-event;

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Veteran city-councillor, Helene Ritchie, with her friend, Peter, attended to add their support for the cause;

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Ms Ritchie derided National’s unwillingness to address the housing crisis, describing their stance as “ideological“.

The Brass Razoo Band – veterans of many previous community activities – kicked off the night’s musical entertainment;

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This family expressed their disgust at the realities of fellow New Zealanders homeless and having to sleep in their cars;

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Young people were in high attendance,  suggesting a consciousness-raising  of their generation  as deep social issues and problems were becoming more and more prominent and harder to ignore;

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Park-up in Wellington - homelessness - 25 June 2016 (79)

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While for the “Littlies”, it was more of who could catch-the-balloon;

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Sleeping rough the hard way, without a car for at least a modicum of shelter from the elements;

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Wellington Central MP and Spokesperson on Employment, Grant Robertson and Bishop Justin Duckworth, shared their thoughts on the issue problem of homelessness;

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Veteran activists for social justice, Warwick, Greg, and Geoff. The fellow behind them is another Wellington citizen who had turned up with a donation of food to help feed those Parking Up for the night;

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Sam and Becs – organisors of Park-Up Parliament – welcomed people to the event;

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Becs spoke first, saying,

“We had Paul Henry last week deride what we were doing, saying that what we were doing isn’t going to make a difference. But this does make a difference. The only thing that  has ever made a difference in history is people protesting in physical form like you are today. So here we are on the back-steps of the Beehive saying to our policy makers, that this is not good enough, that no child deserves to be sleeping in a car, without a home. To be sleeping in a garage or in a tent.”

Sam followed, relating the recent story of “TA”, who along with her family of seven, slept in their van after losing their rental accomodation and their father losing his job. The family had lived in their van for six months.

The story was poignant, and “TA” spoke from her p.o.v. as a child, finding it hard to do her homework in her van. “TA” said that whilst it was warm, with plenty of blankets, she had no private space to do her homework. She said it was stressful for her parents.

“TA” said it was her dream to have her own room, to share with her little sister, and to have books on a shelf beside her bed.

Sam concluded by saying;

“This is an 11 year year old girl who has been sleeping in her van for six months. This is not ok!”

Before Becs introduced the next speaker, she told the crowd;

“Let’s not forget the reason that we are here, and that is to demand that the government starts playing a larger role in the provision of housing for all New Zealanders. So that means that they actually have to put money into good, quality, affordable housing!”

Right Reverend Justin Duckworth was next who spoke that night;

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Right Reverend Duckworth spoke of “homelessness being at the heart of the Christian story” and said it was unacceptable that our fellow New Zealanders found themselves in the position of being homeless.

He led the crowd in prayer, saying,

“We pray for our leaders to do the right thing. We pray there will be a loud voice raised for those who are homeless.”

Next, Jason Clarke, from ‘MAD’, Making a Difference, said that he was part of  a group of concerned citizens in Wainuiomata who had decided to get together to work to alleviate deprivation in their community;

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Jason spoke of the needs of people in their community;

“The problem is really bad, and it’s quite upsetting to see, especially when we have to see our own tamariki having to sleep in their own cars. It’s a shocking thing to see…

… it’s a nationwide problem and everyone just has to get involved. We need to make ourselves heard. Not just because it’s winter and it’s cold now, but to get everybody off the streets and get them into their own homes.”

He thanked the organisers of Park Up,

“It’s quite inspiring to see these younger ones to get involved, and make a difference. It’s… just a blessing.”

Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Otago, spoke next;

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Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman said;

“When I was a teenager, parking-up was something you did on top of Mt Victoria, or at the Hutt River… So what is happening in New Zealand now? What has happened that they can’t find a secure, affordable house? Even when the parents are in the paid workforce. And most of those 42,000 [homeless] people that were mentioned, many of the parents of those children were actually in the paid workforce. So it’s partly a problem of wages being far too low.

What is happening when we hear and see daily that children actually can’t go to school and do as well as they want to? What is happening when a really ill child who should be kept particularly warm and dry in a house is sleeping in a van when she’s recieving chemotherapy? What is happening to our country?”

She questioned the priorities of this government;

“Why do we no longer expect that the government should step in? The state has power over it’s citizens so it has clear responsibilities. I think those are financial, moral, ethical. Good, affordable, housing is a public good. It is a key infrastructure which we need to enhance and maintain.

In my mind it is a thousand times more important than spending three billion dollars each year on roads.”

Dr Howden-Chapman suggested possible solutions;

“We do have choices. Given different instructions by the current government, Housing New Zealand could use it’s assets and land to work with Local Councils and Iwi to again increase the scale and pace of building houses, and set the standards for good, quality, affordable housing. The government should not be taxing and taking dividends from Housing New Zealand.

Housing people, currently living in cars and over-crowded housing, are much more important than the government trying to reduce it’s debt.

Life-choices are being made here, and it’s not the choices of the people in the cars.”

Dr  Howden-Chapman said the property developers were not interested in the lower-end of the housing market as there was more profit to be made building high-end housing, for greater profit. She put the case for Housing New Zealand to take up the challenge;

“Housing New Zealand has the land, it has the skills, it has the capacity to build in scale. We can build affordable housing, in scale. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

The following two speakers received a rapturous applause and cheers. Not because of who they were, but because they were appearing together. Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and Labour’s Grant Robertson walked up to the microphone together;

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They appeared at ease; totally comfortable to be sharing the stage together. As Grant Robertson quipped with a grin, at the cheering and applause,

“Sonny and Cher!”

Metiria quipped back.

“Oh yeah, this is the MoU, changing the government in action!”

The crowd responded with laughter. One of the few lighter moments of the  night.

Metiria became serious again and accused the government of neglecting and degrading essential social services, forcing people to live in cars, garages, motels, and over-crowded housing.

“We as citizens are entitled to decent health, decent education, and decent, safe, affordable housing. How hard is it to make sure that a country as rich, and beautiful, and diverse as ours, can take care of all of our kids and make sure they are living in safe, healthy, affordable homes. It’s not hard at all. It’s [government] choices.”

She added,

“The choices aren’t with the families. Health issues happen to a family. Evictions happen to a family. Redundancy happen to a family. And it could happen to any of us, at any time. Maybe that’s why there’s this huge surge of compassion by New Zealanders, now.

This [homelessness] is not new, but it is so, so, much worse now. And so now is the time to work together; the politicians; with our community organisations that are doing such amazing work; with each other to build compassion, to build connection, that will make our country deliver for our kids. Because if we’re not here doing for our kids, why are we here at all?”

Grant Robertson followed, acknowledging Metiria, before addressing the crowd;

“Every single week, I meet and work with people who are homeless in the city. It happened yesterday. Someone came into my office in Willis Street, who’s been evicted. They’ve got nowhere to live. They’ve got health conditions that they need to manage. And what we find every single time we try and help we try and deal with this, we might have a success. And we’ve been seeing that at Te Puea Marae, the awesome job they’ve been doing there, and they have successes; they get people into homes.

That’s fantastic, and that is rewarding when you can do it, and it’s great to see when people get in [to homes].

But we’re only scratching the surface. We’re not dealing with the systemic problem. That we’re not as a country, and the current governmment is not… housing every New Zealander in a warm, dry, safe home…

…It should be the core of any decent society that we house every citizen.”

Grant said,

“To me that is non-negotiable.  We have  to make a fundamental change. We have to say we will end homelessness and we will only do that if we build houses!”

He added,

“We have a government today that is selling state houses! When forty-odd thousand people are homeless, the government is selling state houses. Their priorities are not just wrong, they are morally bankrupt! And we have to turn that around!”

Grant said that whilst Housing New Zealand had good people working for it, that every mandate to be a social housing provider had been stripped away, and Housing NZ acts as a [commercial] landlord.

“We need a proper social housing agency.”

He said the only way to effect change is to change the government, “It is the only way this will happen. Hashtag change the government.”

Grant finished by making a promise committing both Labour and the Greens to work together to abolish homelessness;

“So you’ve the commitment I know from Metiria and myself, and our Parties that this is our priority. Housing first. House everyone. We will start to solve the education and health issues that are around us.”

Major Campbell Roberts from the Salvation Army followed next;

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In March this year, the Salvation Army had rejected an offer by National to buy state houses. At the time, Major Roberts was damning of the proposal to shift Housing NZ stock onto community organisations such as the ‘Sallies’.

As he stood on the steps to Wellington Cathedral, Major Roberts was in no mood to be placatory to the current government.

“A few weeks ago, I arrived in my office in south Auckland and in the carpark was a car, and I got in a conversation with the young woman who was in the car with her baby. And found that they’d been sleeping there in the carpark overnight. Trying to seek some safe place in which they could sleep for the night.

That’s the situation which is appalling. In which all of us just think shouldn’t be happening in our country and that’s why we’re here tonight.

In the 1940s, in the building over here [points to Parliament, across the road], housing was seen as a priority. Something that actually we needed to something about. And politicians decided to do something about that. And the State house system was born. During the ’40s and ’50s, that was expanded upon by cheap loans; the ability to get in to home ownership, and a number of other things and that carried on.

In the 1980s, suddenly that sort of emphasis on housing started to disappear. And that which over the road [points to Parliament], which was happening since the 1940s, started to disappear… And politicians no longer said, ‘housing is the most important thing’.”

Major Roberts accused successive governments of taking their eyes off the ball.

“And so we have the situation that we now have in New Zealand where appalling circumstances are endured by families. It’s time for government, for politicians, to get back on the horse, and to say we need to do something and we need policies and we need action that will actually change the situation.”

He said,

[The] present government when it came into power said it was going to be involved in housing reform. And housing reform was needed. Certainly our system had run down. Certainly our system wasn’t delivering.

But what we’ve had the five or six years, in housing reform, is not delivering to those people who need it. It’s not delivering to low income people in New Zealand. It’s not delivering to families in New Zealand.”

Major Roberts accused current government policies of delivering “some fairly expensive housing” that some people were enjoying.  Then added,

“But affordable rentals, state rentals, and home ownership which can be afforded, is not being delivered.”

Major Roberts concluded,

“There are policies that can be put in place. Things can be done differently. It needs the will that, over the road [points to Parliament], they had in 1945 but that will is not here today. We need to keep the pressure so that will is recovered and that people are housed in New Zealand.”

The hosts next invited  Harriet Willis (L) and Bella (R)  to read out a poem written by their father;

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A Verse for Neoliberalism

I’m sleeping in the car with my dear old Ma and Pa
‘Coz we can’t afford a house or pot to piss in.
For the rents are all too high, sometimes I think we’re gonna die
For the food from last month’s cheque has all gone missin.

You see they say we’re all to blame, we’re just bludgers who just came
To lean upon the State for far too long.
We could have taken chances in the ladder – climbing dances
Then like the rich we would have become strong.

Yet my family is asleep, at the bottom of the heap,
In the back of Uncle Wally’s Holden Ute.
Some are drugged out in despair, some are just too sick to care,
For government interventions far too cute.

So wake up you investors, and supporting political jesters,
Who exacerbate the gulf ‘tween rich and poor.
All you property owning classes, please get up off your *sses,
And help us find real homes with roof and door.

—  RPW,  May 2016

The following speaker was a woman, Lou, who stood and with her voice shaking, explained to the crowd that she was  imminently about to become homeless herself. She shared details of her situation, which included surviving and escaping domestic violence  and asked if anyone could assist her and her two children;

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Lou’s situation was dire, having only one more night remaining in her current accomodation. Her rent had been increased by $200 to $700 per week, which was totally unaffordable to her on her meagre income.

As she made her way down the Cathedral steps, Grant Robertson approached her;

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Grant later advised this blogger that he had asked her to contact her local MP for Mana, Kris Faafoi, and to also get back in touch with him on Monday.

The band ‘The Hope Genetics‘ entertained the crowd until the “witching hour” drew close;

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Yes, even Every Man’s Dog turned up – reminding us that whether Human or Companion Animal, decent housing was basic to our needs;

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This blogger spent the night in a sedan vehicle. With plenty of old-style woollen blankets, it was not cold – but it was cramped. Four-door sedans are not meant for sleeping in and by the morning my back paid the price of sleeping in a semi-foetal position on the back-seat.

Furthermore,  the psychological aspect to sleeping in a car, out in the open became apparent. One cannot escape a feeling of being exposed and vulnerable. I slept fitfully; awoken by any slight noise outside. People in such circumstances would certainly endure varying degrees of sleep deprivation.

It is barely imaginable how several people could fit in one car, and live and sleep like this for weeks or months on end. It was not pleasant.

I would challenge any National MP to have the guts to spend a night in their car, out on the street. I suspect it would be a challenge not taken up by a single man or woman from the government benches.

Postscript

We like to describe ourselves as an egalitarian society, where fairness and equal access to opportunities are unshakeable social norms. They are the pretty little lies we tell ourselves. We are not those things. Whether it is income inequality, home ownership, or building state houses, we stopped making progress in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Even our treatment of criminals shows that we are not egalitarian, nor equal opportunity.

There is hope. We just need to add a little bit of empathy, love and civic duty to our blind faith in neoliberalism. We will be a better and fairer society for it.” – Shamubeel Eaqub, economist, 23 June 2016

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References

Radio NZ: Hundreds parkup overnight in homelessness protest

Facebook: Park-Up Parliament

Facebook: Parkupforhomes

NZ Herald: This is how the other half lives

NZ Herald: Salvation Army rejects buying state homes – ‘Housing NZ is making a mess’

Additional

Shamubeel Eaqub: Is NZ facing a crisis of conscience?

Shamubeel Eaqub: NZ egalitarian? That’s a pretty little lie

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

Wellingtonians say; “Everyone deserves a home – no more homelessness!”

Letter to Radio NZ – Homelessness, Poverty, and the Final Solution

Letter to the editor – “Throwing money at the problem” of homelessness

Letter to the editor – homelessness, class eugenics, and middle class sensibilities

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

Why is Paula Bennett media-shy all of a sudden?

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John Key can't hear a thing about homelessness

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11 Comments

  1. countryboy says:

    And what power pole was paula bennett tied to and pelted with shit??
    She wasn’t?
    And you all made do and carried on?
    A nice spot of charity then? Donation buckets were there?
    Hardy pink and cleaners out of an evening for shits, giggles to display that kind of nauseating faux-care the middle class muesli set of a Sunday morning are capable of ?
    No blood ? No fire bombings ? No fat bennett swinging from a lamp post?
    There ya go then.
    The only thing that will change is that things will get worse.

    Sorry. That was a bit tough on you guys.

    But fuck it all. I’m over those wankers being able to hide in comfortable offices spending my money while people like you and me sleep rough in our own country . And those political wankers could care less with complete impunity. They have nothing to worry about. I say, lets give them plenty to worry about. Where does Big bennett live ? That’s my first question? Then? Go to her, no doubt, beautiful home at 4.00 am and shout enthusiastically ” Get out a bed you fat, worthless, greedy, narcissistic pig in a frock ( No disrespect to actual pigs in frocks ) and earn the money we shovel into your bulging bank account ! ! ! ! ! ”
    Seriously ? Where does she live, that place we pay her to live in luxuriously ?

    • Tara Cooper says:

      Well I’m one of the people who were sleeping rough on the ground – my next step is planning out a way to camp out in front of Parliament for a week without being easily removed or harming my already bad health too much more. Until then, I’ll keep talking to people, donating what I can to food banks and helping anyone I come across who’s struggling as best I can. If you’ve got more ideas, I’d be glad to hear them 🙂

      • Strypey says:

        Good luck Tara. There have been strict rules about erecting any tent-like structure in parliament grounds since the anti-GE occupation there, and there are automated sprinklers that go on all night to discourage anyone from trying to sleep rough where the MPs and their minions might actually have to see them. Maybe take some inspiration from Julia Butterfly Hill and try a tree-sit?

  2. jay1 says:

    Shocking! 🙁 Greed and callousness and selfishness are destroying New Zealand.

  3. John W says:

    Shamubeel Eaqub has it wrong.

    Neoliberalism doesn’t mix with empathy love and civic duty.

    But he is an economist tied to Neoliberal fundamentalism and oblivious to considerations beyond that narrow, destructive obsession of wealth gathering. More for us means less for others in a finite and shrinking world.

    Compromise with neoliberalism means more neoloiberalism.

    Choose your poisons carefully Shamubeel when you dirty the water for coming generations.

  4. CLEANGREEN says:

    Great effort,

    And you are all hero’s for all every one.Bless you all.

    We must campaign at every chance we can as we go forward to defeat this evil Government next election.

    All unite.

    United we stand divided we fall.

  5. Andrea says:

    Housing Corp has had decades to modernise its housing stock and adjust for changing demographics, as well as entrenched divisions in the economy. (Including the fall-out from the 1980s now coming in to land.)

    So has WINZ.

    And neither agency has.

    Just for a wild moment – is there ANY oversight of rental housing stock? Any larger agency that, at the very least, lets local government know what’s available so they can coherently look at the combination of housing, employment opportunities, transport, infrastructure and schools, etc?

    If not – as far back as the Victorian era they could do that. How did we fall so far behind?

    PS If you thought the back seat and semi-foetal is bad – the driver’s seat and semi-recline is positively hellish.

  6. Sally's Husband says:

    Good write up, Frank, and it was great to meet you on the night! By the way, I saw you scoff that third bbq’d sausage, LOL!!

  7. Strypey says:

    Thanks for the photos Frank. Great to see someone is still doing the sort of demonstration coverage Indymedia used to do. More of this please!

  8. Priss says:

    Excellent reporting, Frank. We didn’t glean much from the msm, so your piece fills in the gaps. Pretty big gaps.

    Housing has become the achilles heel of this government. Until now, growing poverty has been invisible, but now it’s out there in the open, for all to see.

    Key can’t escape this, his policies have borne fruit and they are rotten to the core.