Blanket Man dies at age 54

Family worries about funeral costs

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 16:13 16/01/2012
Lee Thomson

Blanket Man died suddenly yesterday, his final act in public being to wave to passers-by from the footpath outside Wellington Hospital.

Blanket Man memorial
PHIL REID/Dominion Post Zoom
A memorial to Ben Hana, also known as Blanket Man, in Courtenay Place, Wellington.
STREET IDENTITY: Ben Hana, popularly called
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
STREET IDENTITY: Ben Hana, popularly called "Blanket Man", was a well-known personality on Wellington's city streets.

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A public service is being planned for Wellington's most famous vagrant and he will be buried in Wellington, his daughter says.

Renee Temaari said funeral and burial plans for her father Ben Hana, also known as Blanket Man, were yet to be confirmed but would both happen in Wellington this week.

There would be a private ceremony for family, followed by a public service.

She had talked to her father about two weeks ago on Courtenay Place.

"He was good - we talked, just the same as normal.''

Mr Hana had left behind no money and the family would welcome any donations towards funeral costs.

"We were wondering how we're going to pay for it all,'' she said.

TRIBUTES TO INFAMOUS LOCAL

A tribute to 'Blanket Man' Ben Hana sprang up on Courtenay Place following his death yesterday afternoon.

Mr Hana, 54, died at 3.35pm on Sunday in a hospital bed.

The shrine includes a sleeping bag, vodka, candles, cigarette butts and flowers, as well as messages such as "Thanks for standing for what you believe in" and "Love to the man in the blanket".

Courtenay Place Burger King manager Harpal Singh said three people slept by the shrine overnight.

"We'll miss him, he was a good man, he'd never ask for anything free, he'd always buy his own meal... but we'd give him a free cheeseburger. He wouldn't come in often, maybe once a week."

Passersby said the colourful character would be missed.

"I didn't expect to see a shrine, it's really beautiful, lovely," said Natalie cole. "I know he's a controversial character but I always enjoyed his presence. During my walk to work he always looked up and smiled. He's going to be missed.

Pia White said: "Everyone's shocked, it's weird how much impact it's had, he was such an iconic character in Wellington.

"It's going to be weird, you almost think, even though you know he lives on the street and he's homeless, you almost expect that he's always going to live."

After years spent living on the street, Mr Hana suffered from medical problems stemming from heavy alcohol use and malnutrition, lawyer Maxine Dixon said yesterday.

While authorities had been concerned about his declining physical condition in the weeks before his death, his latest trip to hospital had been part of a regular three-month checkup.

Ms Dixon went to the hospital yesterday morning to speak to Mr Hana's social worker about getting him a new blanket, and was expecting him to check out the same afternoon. He had seemed happy on Friday and Saturday, she said.

She was unsure what had led to his sudden death, and a Wellington hospital spokeswoman would not give further details.

Wellington Community Ministry director Stephanie McIntyre, who saw Mr Hana every week, said she was "upset and shocked" at the news. "It's just one of those really sad situations ... I know that a lot of people made many efforts to engage with Ben and to support him, and by and large he chose not to accept their support.

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"There had been times when he had been offered housing and that sort of thing. What a sad situation when someone is so unwell that they would choose the life he did."

She believed Mr Hana had begun to believe in his "iconic status" as Blanket Man, and felt he belonged on the street. "It gave him an identity ... he latched on to that whole notion of a public persona, and that became more important to him than being well."

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said Mr Hana's death was very sad. "He was an extremely well-known Wellingtonian, who lived his life in his own way."

Mr Hana turned to a life on the street in the late 1990s. He could most often be seen sitting on the Courtenay Place pavement, clad in a loincloth and blanket.

Related story: Homeless man divided capital

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