Making headlines this week is the fact that the Government keeps voting against coalface welfare initiatives like “feeding hungry kids at school”. It’s an extension of the systemic failure to meet the needs of the poor and it’s only going to get worse I’m afraid. I think we make the mistake of assuming that all of our poor are the same. DPB mum, Drug Addict, Homeless, Low Income Labourer all seem to get tarred with the same brush and this week it’s the kids that are the victims because we assume that they don’t have any lunch coz mum or dad is blowing the benefit on pokies and pot, or whatever…
Recently I’ve moved from Auckland to Hamilton and the thing I have noticed most of all is the increase of beggars and homeless on the streets down here. You can’t leave your house without getting approached for a smoke, a light, some cash or some food. Jeepers! One day last week they even approached the car I was in as soon as we had backed out the driveway! I’m starting to get a little cross with them and it pisses me off that I’m the one left feeling guilty for being a tightarse when really it’s a problem that belongs to all of us.
I gave my 8 year old son a little run down of the welfare state the other day because he was puzzled by the beggars in the city. I ended up having to do a little damage control because I quickly noticed that the spiel I was giving him was full of holes and contradictions. In a nutshell, it’s that old chestnut that we live in the greatest semi socialist country on the planet and that there is no need for anyone to go hungry because we, here in Aotearoa, take care of our mentally ill, sick and lazy.
So why are there so many people asking me for money on the street? How come kids are going to school without having had breakfast and with a pack of mi-goreng noodles for lunch (if anything at all), in greater and greater numbers?
Many of these homeless, here in Hamilton, are community mental health clients, I know coz I used to be one of them and have worked with many of them in occupational therapy situations. Most of them get the supported living benefit as well as a bunch of disability stuff and many of them don’t pay rent or else pay the pittance it costs at the night shelters. SO… that’s almost $300 a week in disposable income folks. You get more if you live in Auckland too. Most of that goes on a point bag ($100 worth of methamphetamine) or a Quarter bag ($200 worth of meth) and the rest on alcohol, weed or synthetic cannabis, which is making a huge black market comeback! How do I know? I fucking talk to them, man. Remember that we are talking about a very very small but highly visible section of our community.
They are open and willing to talk to people, especially if you offer them a ciggy and don’t treat them like a strange and smelly disease. Once a year in Auckland city people go out and sleep in the city, a fundraising initiative called the “Lifewise Big Sleepout”, it’s a great way to get involved and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s on July 3rd this year and I heartily encourage you to get amongst it, I’ll put a link at the bottom.
It comes as no surprise that our current Government don’t want to help people in need, in my experience it’s never the people that can afford to help that help, its usually the people closest to the bottom of the barrel. Take a look at the recent phenomenon of “Pay it forward” pages on social media sites and you will very quickly get a picture of who is helping who in this age of struggle and strife. I doubt the truly wealthy even bother with social media when they can afford much more effective escapism… I know I wouldn’t mix it with the riff raff if I had Cocaine and a lakeside party house in Queenstown.
Ah, Cocaine… I digress. People are truly going hungry out there and the problem is that they look the same as some of those folks we see on the streets, they live in the same neighbourhoods, they have the same ratty clothes and they sometimes commit the same crimes. In our minds we’ve been conned into believing that they deserve what they get because of the choices they make. It helps us sleep at night and it makes it ok not to help.
Look, Im a beneficiary, after all is said and done I have, this week, $20.90 for groceries. No shit. I don’t drink alcohol and my drug habits, these days, consist of subsidised medication via a chemist. I do have a particularly costly “Children” habit to feed however and, being rather fond of them, I try to spend as much of my income on them as possible. I’m not going to get into why ‘Im on a benefit or my back story right now, we’ll get to that in good time, but I think we can both agree that a 20 dollar grocery basket is a very unhappy and unhealthy little bastard (Send guns and money!). What I’m getting at is that honestly, even without spending money on Drugs, Booze, Cigarettes and Lotto there is fuck all to go around and that our assumption that the poor are that way because of their habits is flawed, self serving and needs to change.
I don’t have any answers I’m afraid but what I am going to do today is thaw out my feelings towards these annoying creatures on the street that keep pestering me for smokes and money and keep giving what and where I can. To become as jaded and mean spirited as this Government appears to be behaving is to my own detriment and flies in the face of what I believe it means to be a Kiwi. We help our neighbours and we don’t kick people when they are down.
Peace, Love and warm, well fitting woollen socks…
Mark Tupuhi is a writer/artist/songwriter from Invercargill currently residing in Hamilton. His history of Drug Addiction, shoddy mental health and associated legal consequences mean that his brand of Gonzo Journalism comes packed with harsh reality, black humour and perspective most would be more comfortable reading about at a distance than actually living.