Welcome to Waikanae – oh look, a homeless man by the side of the road.

Picture this: a balmy Friday afternoon, a leisurely trip south down State Highway 1 to Waikanae before the bank closes. Under the big 50 km/h sign, on the wide grass verge to the right, I notice a rubbish-filled shopping trolley and lying in the rose garden, his back propped up by the signpost, legs splayed barely a metre from the traffic, a stocky dusty shabbily dressed man with a sack over his head.

No! This scene is completely out of place. This is not Waikanae, the most beautiful town? It sends shivers down my spine. Should I stop? No, thank goodness a van has pulled over just ahead and the occupants are getting out fast. Someone is assisting him, I hope they are all OK and don’t frighten him onto the road.

Who is he? I don’t know, but I have noticed him in his crude cardboard shelter on the clay bank next to the road just north of the SPCA over the last few weeks. Hubby says the other morning he stopped the State Highway traffic, trucks and all, in both directions shuffling all the way across, leaning on his trolley at 7 am.

Later leaving the shopping centre, I am surprised and deeply shocked to see him still propped up against the sign. This time with his head securely wrapped in a white plastic supermarket bag, not drooping, thank God, but there was no tell-tale flapping of plastic in the breeze. It looked tight. The scene is fleeting, macabre and shockingly third world. The ugly side of life in the beautiful town. This time there is no van in sight and no help either.

I pull over at the nearest safe place, near the SPCA and ring 111. They have already been rung they say, and don’t blame me for not even venturing near him to see if he is breathing. “I think you should get the police to assist the ambulance driver,” I suggest. “I have,” the call centre operator says, “this is the holdup, waiting for the police to come first.”

Saturday afternoon, meeting Mum for a movie back in Waikanae. I shudder as I drive towards the spot, no shopping trolley, no body and just a few scraps of waste cardboard to show he existed. But where is he tonight? In a psyche ward? A police cell? I sincerely hope so because the alternative scenario is not good, released from hospital and told to go, just go, and chances are, there is no free emergency housing available in Kapiti tonight.

According to David Robertson, spokesperson for Citizens Advice Bureau, in Kapiti, they get one request a week and have to resort to putting people and families up in campground cabins, even then for only a few nights at a time. It is 28 years since KCDC last built social housing. Our population has grown and aged. We have considerable waiting lists for our housing stock and 65% of the Kapiti population is predicted to be of pensioner age by 2030.

Cr David Scott and I have tried to convince our colleagues to budget to facilitate any proposal by a private group to construct new pensioner housing. I don’t mean by forking out ratepayer cash either. I propose Council purchase a land package where we can retain and sell off the excess to recover all initial costs.

Through Abbeyfield for example, 27 units could be built, maintained and managed in a secure community at no on going cost to ratepayers. We have tried through the 2014 Annual Plan, the Long Term Plan, the reaction there was to introduce Rateable Unit charges where the owners of any self contained spaces they make available for emergency housing will be charged around $1,000 extra rates pa for their efforts. Needless to say I did not support this. Soon David Scott and I will try again through the 2016 Annual plan.

During the year I attended an Older Persons Council day-conference on Aged Cities. We enjoyed inspiring speakers, some in their nineties. It prompted me later in the day, to bring up the plight of Kapiti’s elderly homeless in council. Some of the reaction shocked me.

Cr Michael Scott felt that it was their own fault for anyone to be caught out homeless in their old age, and those who had lost their life’s savings through New Zealand’s sad history of collapsed Investment Companies were just too greedy in the first place. Then he and the Mayor asked what the pension was for singles or couples; the Mayor felt that $300 a week tax-free was heaps and they should think themselves lucky.

Well I don’t. I do not feel that Council can say we are committed to caring for the whole community until we stop ignoring those who cant afford to sell up the family home and invest in our flash retirement villages in their old age. What message is Council giving them, that they are too poor for Beautiful Waikanae or Kapiti? To go live elsewhere?

No, and I intend to keep asking for more housing.

Written by Councillor Jackie Elliott – jackie.elliott@kapiti.govt.nz


On the front page of this week’s Kapiti Observer there is an article headed “Babies, Elderly living in cars”.