Bay News Editor and reporter for NZME.

Feeding growing number of homeless is group's ongoing challenge

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Tauranga Under the Stars volunteer Tamaryn Roux has been helping out for one year and says the need is increasing. Photo / Andrew Warner
Tauranga Under the Stars volunteer Tamaryn Roux has been helping out for one year and says the need is increasing. Photo / Andrew Warner

A man strips off to his grey underpants and pulls on a T-shirt, jumper and pair of jeans from a pile of clothing on the ground.

His friend sprays him with a can of deodorant and they both burst out laughing and punch each other in the arm.

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It's nearing 6pm on a chilly Saturday night in downtown Tauranga and volunteers hurry about in the covered walkway that connects the Tauranga City Council carpark to the CBD.

They ferry hot food in from car boots and lay it on a trestle table.

The smell of curried sausages, savoury mince and noodles wafts in the air while a crowd gathers.

The atmosphere is almost jovial as they meet and greet each other and offer assistance to those who will feed them tonight.

Some have been drinking but are told to behave, and are reminded the whole operation could be shut down if they play up.

Tauranga Under the Stars has been helping feed the homeless, the lonely, those in need and, more recently, families for 18 months.

Organiser Liz Kite is greeted with hugs and affection by those she helps.

She makes a beeline towards anyone she does not know by name, thanking them for coming and saying there is a kai for everyone - "I am Liz. I am so pleased to see you, it is great you have come."

Numbers had climbed to about 60 people, Liz said, and were increasing. About 10 per cent of those were families and it was an ongoing challenge.

"I might have a mum with kids or a family but sometimes it is raining and not really suitable for kids down here."

The Tauranga City Council was working on trying to solve the homeless problem and was supportive, but she dreamed of a building with power they could use for a few hours, or at least somewhere to store equipment.

"There is nowhere else for us to go."

On the night the Bay of Plenty Times visits, Chardonnay Daniels swings her feet backwards and forwards, juggling a plate of food on her knee.

The 4-year-old is wrapped in a thick, bright pink jacket.

Her parents Priscilla Pukeroa, and dad, Anthony Daniels, later shared their story with this newspaper about spending six weeks in a car - after struggling to find a rental.

Liz posted their plight on social media and Under the Stars raised donations for the family through its Facebook page and helped get them into a motel. Volunteer Tamaryn Roux said when she first signed up a year ago at Under the Stars it was daunting stepping into the unknown, but "it's been a really good decision and I'm glad I made it".

"I think in this world we are always for ourselves and it's nice to be able to give a little."

The mother-of-four said the volunteers networked on Facebook to collaborate the menu, which included a main dish, sides and dessert, while some food was sourced from local bakeries and businesses.

Robert Unsworth munches on mince savouries, one hand rested on his shopping trolley that is filled with a plastic chair, stool and other sundry items.

Boo Boo, a sharply dressed 2-year-old dog in a jacket, jumps about at his feet.

Mr Unsworth is in the shoe shine business, so to speak, and says while some "here" will beg for money on the streets with a cup and a sign for spare change, "I don't ask - I provide a service for a few coins".

Home for him was a tent after being evicted from his house 14 months ago - and he tells a tale of taking in lodgers off the streets and learning the hard way when disruptive behaviour led to complaints.

"You have got to be careful taking in people off the street because you don't know who they are, where they are from, or their habits - and I paid the price."

Papamoa College teacher Tania Lewis-Rickard leans against the wall and says she has been stashing donated sleeping bags in her car for about three years to give to the homeless.

"My family was raised poor with mum so we know what it is like to struggle and go without and wonder where your next meal is coming from."

She rallied around friends, fellow teachers and on her Facebook page for sleeping bags, gloves, hats and blankets.

A month ago she also started providing soup and food outside the Greerton ANZ on a Friday night with her whanau and was feeding the unseen homeless, including families in a horse float and cars. "If you have a heart do what you can, there is a need to feed our people. This is what living is all about, giving what you can, when you can."

Tahi Heta said his New Day group started feeding the homeless cereal, porridge and boil ups on Sunday morning by accident three months ago - in the CBD.

He wanted to start a Christian men's fellowship with a friend but nobody came so they gave away the banquet they had prepared.

Now Tahi and his band of volunteers bring chairs to Under the Stars as "we don't like seeing them eating on the ground".

"God loves them as well. We treat them with respect or how we would like to be treated."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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