Life on the streets: Two Tauranga homeless men open up the difficulties of sleeping rough

Josh jokes around a lot. One minute he says something serious, then next he’s laughing about one day owning a massive house with two big TVs.

Or the fantastical ideas that he had a former life as an All Black, Prime Minister, or an accountant.

But life on the streets was boring and “bleak”.

“You get all sorts of feelings living out here,” he said.

On one hand, he liked his space, not being tied down, and being able to help others on the streets.

On the other, he just wanted housing – the biggest wish for someone on the streets.

“You’re living day-to-day trying to survive.”

His black mask drooped around his chin while sitting on a Mount Maunganui park bench.

His Chicago Blackhawks hoodie wrapped around the edges of his neck under a black jacket protecting against the cool breeze and light rain.

In his opinion, there was a hierarchy of who got houses and support first: Parents, people with children, couples.

“And then there’s us. Homeless streeties … we’re not really a top priority.”

He said, from what he’s heard, this was “sort of” fair enough because rough-sleepers didn’t know how to – or haven’t been taught – how to care for a house.

He was kicked out of his emergency housing motel on October 9 for having a visitor after being there for nearly two years.

Six days later, he secured another motel.

Being on the streets meant finding places to sleep around town. He has stayed at the men’s night shelter on and off – two months at the shelter and then a few weeks on the street on rotation.

Josh was sent to prison in 2009 and released two years after and stayed in residential care for a few years.

He had also lived on the streets for a while as a youth.

“I forgot a lot of things when I was locked up and in residential … completely forgotten my ways being in a transient lifestyle.”

He received just under $300 on the benefit, which he said helped, but most of it went to paying off debts, and he borrowed about $200 more a week to keep going.

This was spent on survival – including food and clothing.

During the day, he’d hide his belongings in a bush when not in a motel.

Showers were either at the Arataki Community Centre or Memorial Park and he went to the community meals held on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Tauranga CBD.

To do what was needed each day involved a lot of moving around.

“There’s no drop-in centre.”

He’s done upskilling courses but nothing stuck.

The people of Tauranga were mostly nice, he said, with only a few people a day telling him to “get a ******* job”.

“They don’t really have a full understanding of how hard it is,” he said.

He said he was “truly grateful” to those who gave them cash when they needed it.

He said he needed a job, but a job would mean all of his money was spent on all of his expenses, whereas now his accommodation – when he had it – was paid for because he went in under the Covid Act.

'It's not cheap being a streetie'

Rosco has been a well-known streetie for about 30 years and has been living in a motel for nearly two years.

He has travelled around New Zealand, north and south, as a rough sleeper, saying it helped him keep his freedom and kept him moving.

He moved to Tauranga when he was 18 and was soon after on the streets and had several stints in prison.

“You need at least $1500 a week to live comfortably … it’s not cheap being a streetie,” he said.

He described surviving on the streets as being a full-time job in terms of making appointments, showering and getting food.

“You’re on the move all the time.”

Rosco also said he was constantly trying to pay off fines for drinking in public, which was the only place he could socialise because he didn’t have a house and wasn’t allowed visitors at the motel.

All he wanted was a place of his own.

“A place where I can do my own gardens, mow my own lawns, go and collect my own mail, put my own washing out. It would be great.”

Homeless advocate Heidi Tidmarsh said a big aspect of people on the streets, staying on the streets, or meeting up on the streets while in emergency housing, was the social aspect of it, because homelessness was lonely.

She said there was a high need for a one-stop-shop for people to get the wrap-around support they needed. The only way they could get anywhere was if she drove them or if they walked.

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