Homeless with $70k in the bank

DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Lindsay Evans lives on the streets in Hamilton
DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Lindsay Evans lives on the streets in Hamilton

Nothing about homeless man Lindsay Evans shouts money.

Everything from the worn clothes to the grime screams tramp, and there's the down-and-out expression of a man with nowhere to go and nothing to do but hope for something better.

Yet as the 53-year-old sucks hungrily at another freshly rolled Bali Shag cigarette in Garden Place, the Hamilton man says his savings add up to $76,200.

There's $35,700 in Heartland Bank, $31,600 in SBS Bank and $8900 in the FANZ Lifestages KiwiSaver fund.

For dinner the previous evening Mr Evans ate half a packet of $2.59 Home Brand pretzels. For breakfast, he ate the other half.

For the past seven years he's been living this strange life of grinding poverty against a background of relative wealth. The city's own gilded tramp.

Those pretzels came care of his weekly dole cheque.

Thing is, his savings are locked into fixed-term deposits at an interest rate of about 5 per cent, reserved solely for a rainy day.

Work and Income calculate his unemployment benefit payments on income, not assets, but the interest is taken into account and his weekly lifeline was recently cut from $180 to $168.

Mr Evans says he could rent an apartment, furnish it and live in relative luxury for a time. Soon, though, the money would trickle away to nothing - he'd be on the street again without a penny to his name, pushing 60.

As he repeatedly says on a bright weekday morning, his problem's not homelessness, it's joblessness. It's been his problem for nearly a decade.

His last position was a menial one sweeping floors, cleaning vehicle interiors and washing windows as a workshop assistant at Automatic Doors and Gates NZ Ltd in Te Rapa.

In April 2004, Mr Evans was made redundant.

He hated the job anyway.

It was a mug's game, he says, and he couldn't wait to leave.

Now he can't wait to get back into employment, as long as it's the right work, and get a roof over his head.

In the past three years he has applied for more than 800 jobs and hasn't had a single interview.

The next morning Mr Evans is still in bed as workers in ironed pants and buttoned blouses file into the offices of New Zealand's biggest company, Fonterra, across the road. They walk with purpose.

Mr Evans sits idly underneath his blanket, smoking. Watching.

He spent the night alone on the cold concrete of a city car park, sheltering from the rain.

Bluetacked to the window above his head is a "Hope for All" poster.

The illustration depicts Salvation Army staff rescuing people from life's ocean of damage and hurt - loneliness, discrimination, racism, greed, hopelessness, addiction, financial crises and mental illness.

Mr Evans fits in there somewhere.

He was born at Waikato Hospital to English immigrant parents - the second of five boys and one girl.

He went to Fairfield and Bankwood primary schools then Fairfield College.

Mr Evans graduated with school certificate in 1976 and various unskilled jobs followed - mill hand, clerk, cleaner.

So did unemployment.

In 1985, dad died, and mum followed in 1992. Mr Evans' rainy day fund includes a sixth stake from the sale of the family's Chartwell home.

At the turn of the century, the nightmare began.

Mr Evans had been living with his brother for seven years until a love interest moved in - his brother's future wife. Things didn't go well.

Mr Evans wound up in the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre where he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

He still pops an Olanzapine and Venlafaxine pill each morning to keep the intense worry at bay. There's also Metformin for his diabetes.

A bad run of boarding situations followed until the final straw came.

He moved into a Nawton house one day and was booted out the next.

Soon, he was sleeping rough.

He thought: until I'm employed again and I can easily afford a place of my own, I'm going to stay on the street.

It's a grim, boring life, he says. Miserable even. He once went without a shower for seven months - not a big deal.

His biggest fear is someone attacking him as he sleeps so he tends to tuck himself away in abandoned corners.

It hasn't happened yet. But he expects it will. He has never begged. The other day he found a wallet containing $360 and he turned it in to the police. He was brought up that way.

He says he's a good, responsible citizen. Albeit one without love. Ever.

Still, he'd like to have a wife and kids one day. Maybe in the distant future.

Nor is he a religious man, yet he has a moral code, namely, do to others what you would have them do to you.

That's the best way to live life, he says.

His has boiled down to a daily routine that he describes as a drag.

First there's breakfast, closely followed by one of up to 20 cups of the cheapest instant coffee available.

It's always black without sugar.

Then he rides his second-hand mountain bike to the library where he surfs the job sites. If there's a church lunch on for $1, he'll go along. Afternoons are often time for a kip. Then it's back to the library. After dinner, perhaps an $11 chicken and rice meal at Momotea, it can be as late as 3am before he crashes.

Over the past seven years he has become a prolific reader. True crime stories are a favourite, along with tourist guidebooks about cities he wants to visit.

"I like to read about places to visit . . . I'd like to see them for myself one day."

Fairfax Media