Bleak life in shelter

MICHELLE SUTTON
Last updated 13:00 12/03/2012
Nelson Men's Night Shelter
MARION VAN DIJK/Fairfax NZ

HOMELESS: Jason Marino, left, and Raymond (who did not want to give his last name) outside the Men's Night Shelter in Vanguard St.

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A young woman living at a men's-only shelter last week is part of a Nelson population group thought to be increasing – single, female and homeless.

The 26-year-old was staying at the city's men's-only shelter last week when the Nelson Mail visited, sleeping in a room alongside other male occupants.

She declined to be named, or make much comment, hiding from questions under her oversized hooded sweatshirt.

Attempts to learn her background, or why she was living there, were also unsuccessful.

"I don't know," she said when asked where she came from, "I think I was born in Christchurch," she volunteered later.

The woman was allowed to stay at the shelter, by manager Edward Andrews.

"Most people who come here have deep-seated problems, I suspect she's been brought up in gangs. She's a lost soul," he said.

"I don't collect lost souls, I just help them to be found."

Mr Andrews, a former merchant seaman, said he did not normally accept women and only accepted men aged 18 or older.

He had, however, occasionally let women stay depending on the circumstance – like another woman, who was pregnant, 18, drinking alcohol and using drugs when she turned up a few years back.

He was unsure about concerns there were more single women facing life on the streets.

Mr Andrews, who has been shelter manager for the past 18 years, said he was unable to offer much insight into that situation. There were normally two or three requests a year from women with nowhere else to go and that remained unchanged, no more or less, he said.

"I don't know anything about the homeless population, I just know how to look after the shelter.

"I get a few women asking to stay here now and then, but this is no place for children," he said.

Last Friday three other men – Jason, Billy and Andrew – had slept at the shelter, set up by the Anglican and Catholic churches in the 1980s. Another man who had stayed left soon after the Nelson Mail arrived.

The men appeared to be society dropouts, but most said they were forced to live there. They had no other option.

With the exception, perhaps, of 65-year-old Billy Urquhart – one of Nelson's homeless identities, normally seen walking the city and parks, and the oldest man at the shelter.

A self-described shelter regular, Mr Urquhart said he was the former first husband of murdered Nelson woman Ann Urquhart. She divorced him in the 80s, he said.

"I can't afford housing anywhere else, all the non-believers have stolen it," he said, referring to non-religious people.

He claimed to spend his days picking up used cigarettes to feed his daily habit – "smokes are too expensive". But, the former African soldier, who said he fought in the civil war of Rhodesia, was seen later that day having a beer in a city pub.

It was a different story for the other men at the shelter.

"I can't afford anywhere else," said 40-year-old Jason Marino. Previously he had been living with his parents in Nelson, but arrived at the shelter when they kicked him out, he said.

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Previous problems with the tenancy tribunal meant he was unable to pay bond or rent to live elsewhere, he said.

Another man, Andrew, 53, said he was only visiting the shelter, paying for coffee and food, but he slept elsewhere. He declined to say where.

Mr Andrews said it cost $80 a week for men to stay at the shelter permanently and $20 a week for an evening meal which he provided daily. This was attended by a couple of other extras who did not live at the shelter.

The 64-year-old said the shelter provided a service which was needed in the city. It had a capacity for about half a dozen homeless, with six beds and two two-seater couches.

He was unsure how long he would continue in the job. "I have never made plans. I'm 65 in three months time, I'll just see what happens."

- The Nelson Mail

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