Hamilton night shelter struggles to house homeless

'We're run on the smell of an oily rag'

Last updated 14:33 10/01/2014
Peter Humphreys

Paternal approach: Hamilton’s Night Shelter manager Peter Humphreys says he’s not there to judge, just give the men somewhere warm to rest their heads.

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Living on the street isn't something anyone sets out to do, it just happens. It's tough when you get dropped out of the system.

There's several reasons a man would find himself without a roof over his head.

Their childhood was terrible, they've been to jail, their addictions catch up on them, they can't put the money together for a bond on a rental, or their references are too bad to even find a rental.

As Hamilton's Night Shelter manager says: "There's always a story behind the homeless."

But Peter Humphreys said he's not there to judge, just give the men somewhere warm to rest their heads.

"We're the last hotel in town, they just turn up and we give them somewhere to sleep."

Mr Humphreys is the manager of the Hamilton Christian Night Shelter. When the Times last visited him in July 2012, he was settling into the new shelter.

They had just moved from an old Chinese restaurant on Rostrevor St which slept 14.

In 2007 it was estimated there were up to 80 homeless men in Hamilton. The night shelter trust knew something had to change and set about looking for a new, bigger building to move into.

But housing comes at a cost, and grants only go so far.

The new shelter had a price tag of just over $1 million, and back in 2012 they had a $400,000 debt, which they have managed to whittle down to $350,000.

The $50,000 has come from donations, but alongside that, the men who stay in the shelter are expected to cover a bit of their costs - they pay $80 a week out of their Work and Income benefits.

But if they don't have that, that's alright too.

"We can't just turn them away. We just take them that night and ask them to go to Work and Income in the morning to sort something out. Sometimes that doesn't work out though."

The shelter has two paid staff, and all cleaning is done by the men who stay there.

"We do struggle financially because of all the economy issues, but we get by. We're run on the smell of an oily rag."

The numbers of men fluctuate on any given night, it could be 14, it could be 20, but unless there are more than 28 of them there will always be a bed.

Some stay for a night, some stay for a month, one guy has been there three years, Mr Humphreys said.

He doesn't know how many are homeless in Hamilton now, but he knows that if we fixed some of our social issues, there would be a lot less.

A big one is mental health.

When the move was made to get rid of the mental health institutions and replace them with community-based care, a lot of people fell through the cracks, Mr Humphreys said, and that's when they ended up with him.

"Probably about 70 to 80 per cent of the people coming in here have mental health issues." The community approach is good in theory, but from what Mr Humphreys has seen, the cases must be extreme before the system steps in.

"It's always edge of the cliff stuff. They've got to be killing themselves or killing someone else."

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With proper supportive social housing, much like they have implemented in Wellington and Christchurch, Mr Humphreys thinks the homeless problem will decrease exponentially.

That and banning legal highs.

"It has a massive effect on our guys here. These legal highs just take over their lives . . . some of them are just zombies.

"One guy, that's what he waits for. The minute he gets any money, it's straight to that shop in Hamilton East."

He sometimes goes and rescues the guys from the shelter if they're causing trouble while high in town, but often there isn't much he can do.

"I just sort of take a paternal approach to it, but a couple of them you can't even talk to. They'll just be sitting there swaying side to side. Like zombies."

But until something is done, Mr Humphreys will continue doing what he's doing, because if not, what do the guys do?

"There's just nowhere else for them to go."


- Waikato


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