Christchurch homeless offered tents on Colombo St to stay dry could now be evicted as freedom campers

Abraham Neho has been keeping dry in a tent on Colombo St, Christchurch.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

Abraham Neho has been keeping dry in a tent on Colombo St, Christchurch.

Some of Christchurch's homeless have pitched tents to keep dry as they live by central city shop frontages.

But the people doing it could find themselves evicted under the same laws which prohibit freedom camping in central Christchurch.

Tepi Amohia and Abraham Neho have been in the same spot on Colombo St for "two or three months".

Set out from the path and on council property, some are convinced the tents are entirely legal.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

Set out from the path and on council property, some are convinced the tents are entirely legal.

But on Friday, after ex-Cyclone Cook brought heavy rainfall to the city, the pair were given a tent.

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"They were in a place where it was raining and everything [their possessions] got drenched," Collective for the Homeless coordinator Brenda Lowe-Johnson said.

Tepi Amohia, drinking an energy drink, says his experience makes him "like a matua" to the many young on the streets.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

Tepi Amohia, drinking an energy drink, says his experience makes him "like a matua" to the many young on the streets.

Lowe-Johnson, who had worked with Amohia in the past and was involved with him getting his first home in 31 years, had been spending time with the men over Easter weekend.

The advocate for homeless people, who is also a member of the Linwood-Central-Heathcote Community Board, was adamant that "this is council land . . . it is legal".

But Taylor Shaw Barristers and Solicitors partner Ingrid Taylor said the council's Freedom Camping Bylaw 2015 could mean they had to move.

Neho, with his teddy, has few possessions, with just blankets and bedding in the tent.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

Neho, with his teddy, has few possessions, with just blankets and bedding in the tent.

"Unless you were self-contained and you had toilets and at least three days water . . . then it's banned in the central city area," Taylor said.

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"It would be different if they were in a van that contained all of that."

Both Amohia and Neho had been on the streets for many years before Amohia got his home in 2016.

He had since been evicted and was planning on staying on Colombo St until he was able to find another home.

"When I was in my house I ended up taking a lot of streeties in the house," Amohia said.

"It didn't work out, so I ended up getting booted out and came back out here."

Lowe-Johnson said it was Amohia looking out for other "streeties" that lost him the home.

"He felt guilty about having a house and them not having one, because they're all brothers."

A gas cooker, pots of cooked food and bottles of water sat near the tents when Stuff visited the site over the weekend. Amohia's dog, Sasha, had a bowl full of biscuits.

Amohia said he was "like a matua" to many of the younger homeless in the area and they "come see me and get a decent feed".

The group said most people did not mind them being there. The tents did not obstruct the path and Amohia maintained he did not ask people for money.

"Back in the days we used to go around asking for money.

"Now that we've got a bit older, we're not asking for money. We've got signs. I just sit there and don't ask for nothing."

People stopped and gave coins and cigarettes to Amohia while Stuff was there. A man handing out religious pamphlets stopped to give him a hot cross bun.

But another took issue with Amohia and Neho's presence on the street.

The man, carrying a guitar case and portable amplifier, stopped to first ask if he could buy a cigarette from Amohia before giving his views.

"I've been working really hard down there playing music . . . I'm just here for a couple of days. I'm not going to be living on the street, I just find it curious.

"I just found it incredible that a man could sit here for two months and beg in the heart of the city."

After arguing with Lowe-Johnson, the man eventually continued walking along Colombo St.

Lowe-Johnson said she and Councillor Deon Swiggs spent a night on the street in early April.

"There's nothing wrong with these guys, they're human beings.

"They haven't had it easy . . . They just need some people who will care for them, and they get a lot of care around here too."

Amohia said any money they were given on the streets was spent on food, not alcohol or drugs.

"The people that give money, it's the poor – not the rich."

The Christchurch City Council was unavailable to comment over the long weekend.

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 - Stuff

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