In central Wellington, the police and Wellington City Council security officers have moved in on the Occupiers in Civic Square to remove them — and it’s been revealed that many had no other home to go to.
Of the people who were still there when the removal began, around 17 of them said they were homeless.
Putting aside briefly the right or wrongness of the protest for a moment, there now remains the question of what will happen to the 17 who have no home to go to.
Homelessness remains a long-standing and unresolved topic in Greater Wellington that is often unspoken of until something dramatic happens; such as the death of Ben Hana recently or the Wellington Occupation itself.
Perhaps the most common misconception I hear is that homeless people choose to be homeless; a lifestyle choice as it were. There is a truth that a tiny percentage, and I mean tiny, choose to sleep rough such as Ben Hana. Even then these decisions are rarely made out of well-being.
Little quality housing available
It’s unbelievably difficult to find affordable, quality housing for people on low incomes.
Downtown Community Ministries in Wellington City work with around 150 people each quarter who experience homelessness; whether it be people in Women’s Refuge, night shelters, boarding houses, couch surfing or living rough on the street.
Of the 150, around 20% find accommodation within the quarter, and the rest either go on to waiting lists with Council/Government housing and the others remain in the same state.
Add difficulties with alcohol or drug addiction, criminal conviction history, mental health, or anti-social behaviour and it gets harder again.
‘Wet House’ needed…now
If Wellington had a Wet House (supported housing for chronic alcoholics that has been talked about for around six years now), Ben and , Sam Smith,another not so well-known homeless man who passed away just a few weeks prior, may not have died.
That’s why we need, despite all the inconvenience and complexities with it, the voice of Occupy.
Social agencies and the homeless themselves have been calling out for more affordable permanent accommodation, and it simply keeps falling on deaf ears.
If homelessness gets the attention, finally, of public and public figures through the occupation protest, I would choose that a hundreds times over another premature and preventable death.
The measure of our society, as stated countless times throughout the centuries, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; including those whom we’d rather not have to see or deal with.
Our homeless, our most vulnerable, deserve the right to be called and treated as our neighbours.