I recall homeless people being in the Auckland CBD for as long as I can remember. I guess the big difference from when I was a teenager, is that there appears to be many more that are now visible on the streets.
There is an older man who has his usual spot sitting outside my building. He is friendly and doesn’t get angry or offended if people can’t give him any money. I recently learned that older homeless people like himself are more peaceful and less volatile than those who are typically younger and transient. This man guards the ‘boulevard’, and for the 8 months I have been working in that part of Queen St, I have not witnessed any commotion or bad behaviour.
Homelessness is a growing concern in Auckland that feels so visible, yet invisible at the same time. The visible signs are obvious – people sitting on the ground asking for money, food or a job. Some are sleeping, some are passed out. Some seem distressed. Some beam with smiles.
Sometimes they were an invisible cloak where people walking by do not see them. They are filtered out, cropped out of view. As if they were never there. I will not lie, there are times when they are visible and invisible to me. My heart acknowledges them, but my denial and fear ignores them.
I fundamentally believe we all have the capacity to love and serve others, so last Friday I had an opportunity to volunteer at The Auckland City Mission with a group of international students from Otago Polytechnic Auckland International Campus. We were warmly welcomed by staff, including their friendly and inspiring CEO Chris Farrelly. After a quick tour of their building, we were introduced to Haeata, the homeless community service hub featuring a fully functional kitchen, dining room and social spaces. We were assigned various tasks ranging from preparing vegetables, tidying and organising the food bank, arranging clothing donations, to mopping floors and moving stock items. The work was physical, but it felt so satisfying to know we were making a visible and tangible contribution.
A highlight was when we were able to mingle and have lunch with the guests at Haeata. The people we spoke to were friendly and welcoming – they weren’t afraid to ask the students questions, but were equally open to answering questions too. One particular man, originally from Dargarville spoke fondly of his love of Maori culture and insisted I teach the students some Waiata! His kindness and generosity really struck a chord with me. Humanity is all about connection. I also marvelled at another man who was showing slick skills on the ukulele.
The Auckland City Mission relies on volunteers to help run their services. I wholeheartedly encourage individuals and groups to consider giving their time to the Mission, be it making donations, volunteering at Haeata, assisting with the annual Christmas lunch (yes, they will need MANY helpers on Christmas Day), or helping with many other tasks or jobs. Simply enquire and see how you can make a difference in the lives of many in need. Click here to find out how you can help.