CANTA Issue #8, 2017

Sati sat down with Matthew Mark from City Mission to gain some insight into the challenges faced by Christchurch’s homeless. He also had a chat to Connor, who is currently challenged with homelessness.
Working in a central city convenience store makes you privy to opinions from all walks of life. In the past year, amongst all the chatter about cycle ways and the Cathedral, there has emerged a new concern about the homeless.

Everybody has an opinion on the homeless that have taken to visibly residing on the streets of the inner city. To some, they are lazy cretins who would rather survive off the generosity of the unsuspecting than make their own way in the world. Others perceive them as people to be pitied, victims of a flawed society and deserving of our sympathy and generosity.

What has become abundantly clear, however, is that very few people actually know much about the homeless at all. It was with this in mind that I had a couple of yarns with the CEO of the Christchurch City Mission Matthew Mark as well as a young homeless man named Connor, about who the homeless are and the challenges they have faced in life.

Who are the homeless?

They can be found sleeping in cars, sheds, garages, and oftentimes in abandoned homes and buildings around the city. If you ever had the opportunity to have a conversation with them you would find that they come from all manners of pasts, and are in their current positions for a variety of reasons.

I have met kids as young as 14 who were thrown out of home, or ran away from abusive ones. There are those with criminal pasts, those who once held full time employment and those who have been homeless for so long they cannot remember any other way of living.

Too often the homeless are just those who have slipped through the cracks in society, says Matthew. Where undiagnosed mental health issues or a rough upbringing has led to self-medication and drug addiction, fuelled petty crime, and a lack of education and lead to an inability to gain or retain employment or housing.

Why challenges do they face?

What tends to stump most people is the question of why they remain homeless? If you give any credence to the comments on Stuff articles it is because they are lazy and do not want to work for a living. My homeless friend Connor vehemently disagrees. Most University students have had their share of struggles when it comes to employment and housing. However, for those homeless who desire a life of the streets (and Connor admits that there are too many who do not), those problems are magnified.

To gain the simplest entry level jobs in fast food outlets requires in 2017 the ability to access and complete online application forms, have valid identification, and use basic technologies. You need to be able to communicate and interview in the right way, as well as being presentable. This may be straightforward to many of us but how much of that is a result of the environment we have been raised in? Matthew says that in his experience at the City Mission, many of the homeless are computer illiterate, know little about job application processes, or how to be a desirable employee.

This is not by choice, but often because they did not have the access to an environment where they could learn those things. I am not going to try to touch on our social housing issues here, but similar requirements exist before you can even rent a room and it is not hard to imagine that many of the homeless would not be able to fill them either.

From Connor’s perspective, it is the mental aspects of being homeless that provide the biggest challenge.

You feel like no one wants you and that no one is there to support you. This is a feeling exacerbated by the nasty looks and words you receive from many in society, and the shops and police who move you on from your spot on the street. This makes it hard for them to access what help is available because they do not have the confidence that they can change their situation, or that they are wanted by society.

Oftentimes it feels like the only people who care about them or understand them are the other homeless, and that makes it a hard community to leave. One challenge he says the homeless face, which I had never even contemplated, is finding ways to fill up the day.
To that end services such as the City Mission’s day programme and the Central Library’s open door policy are a godsend, but sometimes all he can do is cruise around on his skateboard and hope to make a few friends for the day.
What can you do?

Common wisdom follows that instead of giving the homeless money, you should give them food. Matthew agrees, maintaining that the homeless have access to financial help from a number of groups (they are the ones who need more funding), and the best thing you can usually do is lend them an ear. Connor backs him up on this.

Money is nice he says but sometimes even nicer is a genuine smile. A hello and how are you that makes him feel like human being can put a smile on his face all evening. It is important to remember that the homeless are members of our society too. They face the same challenges that we do of employment, housing, mental health but theirs is a voice rarely heard.

So, next time you see a homeless person, do notlook away in discomfort. If you want to do something share a pie, share a smile, lend an ear and help them feel normal for a second.

Issue Two: The Greasy Wok 4