Red zone refugees living in squalor

SHELLEY ROBINSON
Last updated 11:05 05/07/2014
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ

Two of Christchurch central city homeless, Mickey and Daniel* talk on surviving on the earthquake battered streets. Edited by Monique Ford

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A squalid, makeshift homeless camp at the demolished Christchurch sale yards has been abandoned after a death on the site, dispersing those living rough into the central city.

A five-week investigation into the central-city homeless community found residential red zone refugees, a large number of young people living on the streets, and a man who three months ago was wearing a suit but now sleeps on a cold concrete floor in an alleyway.

The Addington sale yards are expected to be re-populated after the homeless community bless the area.

With rotting bedding lying on muddy ground, bitterly cold temperatures, makeshift tents, abandoned shopping trolleys and bicycles, it is a place few homeless want to return to.

Mickey, living on the streets since the earthquakes, sleeps in a hole in an abandoned building near Cashel St.

The building is about to be demolished, meaning he will probably end up at the camp.

"I don't want to go out there, but where else is there? I'm sick to my stomach with being out here," he said.

Other homeless sleep in alleyways, under bridges, curled in doorways or risk staying in abandoned building waiting to be "rolled" by police.

While politicians quibble about whether there is a housing crisis, those living rough on the streets are unanimous.

Uncle, 49, said there was no low- cost housing since the earthquakes.

"We just can't afford anything. It's just no good out there," he said.

The inner-city east, once known for its cheap bedsits, was badly hit in the quakes.

The Christchurch City Mission has a 30-bed men's shelter and a seven-bed women's shelter - both full.

Young people outnumber adults on the street.

One man, aged 26, started on the streets when he was 12.

It was too dangerous for young people, he said, but they were often escaping abuse.

"The young ones shouldn't be out here, but sometimes it's safer... even though this place is dangerous," he said.

298 Youth Health centre head Dr Sue Bagshaw said youth homelessness had been a problem for more than 20 years.

"We have young people leaving Child Youth and Family [state care] with very little support. They are put back on the street, put back into the same circumstances from which they were taken as children."

Bagshaw is looking for land and funding for an emergency and transitional youth shelter, with 40 beds. The service would provide a safe place for homeless young people, she said.

During the five-week investigation, no women were found living rough.

City Missioner Michael Gorman said women were far more "inventive".

"Women, because they are often responsible for a child, will establish a less than satisfactory relationship which will ensure a roof overhead for their children," he said.

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- The Press

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