Rough sleeper Jason Poutai and homeless advocate Carrie Kake lead the charge for a permanent night shelter in Whangārei. Photo / Tania Whyte
01st August 2023 Photo Tania Whyte.
Cancer patients living in cars, kids camped out at parks, and elderly sleeping at bus stops may soon have a place to rest their heads at night in Whangārei.
Progress is being made toward opening a temporary night shelter in the city. However, rough sleeper Jason Poutai and homeless advocate Carrie Kake, who have teamed up for the cause, say it is a short-lived solution for a long-term problem.
The duo, who met after Poutai bravely went public about his road to homelessness, have started a petition to garner support for a permanent night shelter.
Kake said an offer from a “kind person” has meant a temporary night shelter will be set up in the old Army Hall barracks in downtown Whangārei.
But what is truly needed, she stressed, is a building that can permanently house a night shelter.
“The homeless situation is growing bigger and bigger. There are more old people but the youth are out there now, they’re under the bridges.”
Five years ago, roughly 100 people were homeless in Whangārei. Today that figure has shot up to more than 500 people needing public housing in the district.
Pastor Petrina Sullivan has seen the heartbreak of homeless people first-hand as she grew up on the streets of Christchurch and now works alongside her husband Craig and friend Phil Roil – whatever the weather – to provide meals and essential items to rough sleepers in Whangārei and Dargaville.
“My desire has always been the outcasts, the lost, and I suppose because I’ve lived it I know what they are going through.”
Sullivan, who said the Lord guided her to help those less fortunate, once discovered about 15 children and several adults staying underneath the stadium at Jubilee Park in Morningside.
She was able to raise enough donations to supply them with tents and sleeping bags. Then they started asking for toothpaste and other hygiene products.
But they are not the only ones to cross her path. She met an 84-year-old man who has spent the past four years sleeping at different bus stops in Whangārei. He told her how his bow legs were because he jumped off a bridge but didn’t die. She has given food to people with cancer living in their parked cars by Te Matau a Pohe.
All of whom would benefit greatly from a night shelter, Sullivan said.
The pastor has been trying to book community halls so the homeless could spend at least one night out of the cold and wet weather.
“But nobody will let me because of the OSH [Occupational Safety and Health] things and the council permit things.”
Sullivan said it took months just to find a place to host a Friday night kai for people in need of a good, hot meal.
A permanent night shelter would be life-changing for homeless people who have nowhere to go after dark, Poutai said.
“It will get us out of the rain, out of the cold, and because there are a lot of old people sleeping on the streets they are the ones I feel sorry for.
“You can see them when they’re trying to get up off the ground every morning, they’re bent over because they’re trying to straighten their back. I’m like if only you had a bed, my mate.”
Kake appreciates opening a night shelter is no easy feat but she is determined and is backed by her past achievements, which include giving life to 155 Open Arms as a day centre for the homeless and repurposing a house in Kamo to take in families with children.
“I need to make this one work, for the people,” she said.
“They are sleeping all over town – Mair Park, outside the Anglican Church, behind Hospice, down in the parks until they get shoved out of the parks.”
Nearly 200 people passing through downtown Whangārei had signed Poutai and Kake’s petition within the first week.
Poutai doesn’t ask people to sign it. He said they do it out of the goodness of their heart when they spot him with his sign, clipboard and pen.
“They’ve either been in my situation or they know someone who is in that situation.”
Support for his and Kake’s cause was strong, Poutai said.
“The amount of conversations I’ve had with people who are so for it. They can’t understand why there isn’t a night shelter.”
Poutai said life after sharing his story had been “amazing”. Many strangers had reached out to offer their help, offer a hug or shake his hand.
In fact, his petition gear was created and gifted to him by Jackie Henare after she spotted him on the footpath and asked what he needed other than food.
“It’s really beautiful to see the love from the community who are backing us.”
Kake’s plea to the public is to give just one minute of their time to the homeless.
“The people who are out on the streets have always been triggered by something that has put them there. It costs nothing to reach out and lift them,” she said.
“I know they have all their issues and that but who wouldn’t if they lived on the streets.”
Karina Cooper is deputy news director and covers breaking and general news for the Advocate. She also has a special interest in investigating what is behind the headlines and getting to heart of a story.