A community with no abode

SHELLEY ROBINSON
Last updated 05:00 20/08/2014
Amy Burke
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
KINDNESS: Amy Burke distributes food and clothing to homeless people on a no-questions-asked basis.
Tai McKenzie
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ
MAN'S BEST FRIEND: Homeless Christchurch man "Uncle" and his dog.

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Homeless man Cameron* was not prepared for the encounter with his past.

Months ago, he told his Christchurch workplace he was shifting to Auckland.

Instead, he took to Christchurch's bitterly cold central city streets as a man with no fixed abode.

He had hit an emotional wall.

Last week he found himself, quite by accident, face-to-face with his former boss and colleagues.

Though Cameron is clean-shaven and well-dressed he cannot hide the physical wear and tear of being homeless.

His workmates saw the truth - he was living on the streets.

"It could have gone either way. They could have pretended not to recognise me or been really good about it," he said.

It was the latter.

His former boss and workmates offered him support.

When he was ready, a job was waiting, his boss told him.

No pressure. When he was ready they would be there.

Cameron is still living rough in a tin-roofed shelter, sleeping on a cold concrete floor.

"I am comfortable on the streets but I realise at some stage I will have to transition back into a home," he said quietly.

Cameron is getting some help and attends a course.

Mickey didn't want to live on the streets. He was "sick to his stomach" of being huddled in a hole in an abandoned building in the Cashel Mall.

Mickey now lives in a city council housing unit.

The homeless don't find it easy going from the streets into a warm house.

Mickey sleeps on the floor sometimes instead of the bed - he is too used to a hard cold surface. He is receiving support including help to do grocery shopping. A task which most do without thinking causes him extreme anxiety. He is doing "ok".

Uncle and his dog "B" are still sleeping in an abandoned building in the central city. He says he is happy.

Uncle is still well respected by the younger homeless.

They are slightly awed by his new "lawyer" like appearance.

He has shaved off his beard and long hair and was seen wearing a suit at the recent Help for the Homeless mid-winter Christmas meal.

Daniel*, the leader of the younger group that slept huddled together in a hut by Latimer Square has gone to the Addington stock yards and lives in a tent.

Others from the group are still living in the central city.

The homeless still see him from time to time - but he is on a different journey at the moment.

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Someone said very quietly, "Daniel is lost right now".

Little changes on the streets. They go about their routine, then meet up at "feedings", "like a family reunion".

For some homeless in the central city, the streets will always be their home. It is where they are comfortable. They all have reasons, some painful and sad, and some more simple, for choosing to live rough.

The Salvation Army, Christchurch City Mission and other welfare organisations remain a constant helping hand.

One thing has changed though.

"We all have a mum now," said Uncle chortling.

Mum is Amy Burke from Help for the Homeless Facebook page.

She has quit her job as a cleaner and works fulltime, unpaid, with the homeless.

"I didn't have the energy at night and that wasn't fair to the guys or to work. I decided to commit to the guys - they need help more than I need the money," she said in her usual pragmatic gruff style.

She still goes out in her car filled with warm clothes and food to see "the locals" at least four times a week.

A shelter is being worked on by a large volunteer group associated with the page.

Amy is targeting commercial sponsors to keep the food flowing to the homeless.

"We are dwindling at the moment," she said.

At a recent mid-winter Christmas meal for the homeless organised by Amy and her crew, the Otautahi Sports Club organised some games.

Turns out a few of the homeless are former premier softball players.

Tuesday feedings now end with a game of softball, legs whirling around bases and laughter echoing around Latimer Square - it is a far more joyous sound than has been heard there for a long time.

A couple are looking at joining the club.

"It's all about feeling a sense of belonging. It is about hope," said Amy.

- The Press

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