A service to remember some of those who have died on the streets this year was held as hundreds gathered to raise awareness and funds for the homeless.
The fourth annual Salvation Army 14 Hours Homeless sleepout on 13 October saw more than 300 people sleeping out and raised more than $78,000 for programmes helping homeless people, with funds still coming in.
The events in Auckland, Palmerston North, Tokoroa, Wellington and Invercargill were also about raising awareness about homelessness, with homeless and formerly-homeless people sharing their stories at each event.
In Auckland, a service was held to remember five homeless men who had died in the past year. The men were part of a community supported by the Waitakere Community Ministries and the corps, with three other members of the homeless community taking part in the service.
Corps Officer Captain Pauleen Richards said it was a good opportunity to remember and honour the men’s lives. ‘It hit home that this is a real issue that doesn’t always end well for people.’
The Wellington event saw five agencies working together, with eventgoers visiting the different charities or hearing from staff and clients, to see directly how the funds they raised would help provide shelter, food and warmth to homeless people in the city.
The events saw good support from city councillors and MPs. Wellington City Mayor Justin Lester and Te Atatū MP Phil Twyford spoke at the Auckland and Wellington events. At the Palmerston North event, a representative of the NZ Army’s 2nd Combat Service Support Battalion was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for its support of 14 Hours Homeless. It was the first year the battalion wasn’t able to attend the event, but it held a street collection which raised over $6000.
Along with the serious side, there was fun to be had as eventgoers in Palmerston North took part in a challenge to build the best cardboard structure, and a formerly-homeless man showed people in Invercargill how to make their own mats out of plastic bags.
Invercargill eventgoers also got to revisit last year’s event, which was highlighted as part of a half-hour documentary on homelessness in Southland made by a Southern Institute of Technology student.
Palmerston North Community Ministries Mission Coordinator Peter Barton said some early rain and the event’s central city location proved a challenge. ‘It was really, really busy and noisy. It brings it home, I guess; that’s how it is for a person living rough. That noise is constant, people talking, bottles being thrown, cars, sirens. We were lucky we can have a peaceful sleep the next night.’
The event attracted quite a few formerly homeless people who wanted to give back or share their story. ‘We had one lady who came from Whanganui to take part because she had experienced homelessness and wanted to give back,’ Peter said.