Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Wake-up call from the council meanies

The rich and caring can do something to give the homeless some real help. Photo / Dean Purcell
The rich and caring can do something to give the homeless some real help. Photo / Dean Purcell

On Thursday, 75 assorted academics, business figures, politicians and a smattering of minor celebrities will sleep rough at AUT University for the night, to draw attention to the plight of Auckland's homeless.

Before they knock back their last hot chocolate for the night, could I suggest they ring their local councillor and berate him or her over the Super City's continuing harassment of the nocturnal denizens of my local bus stop.

Rather than a sleepover by the rich and caring, I suspect what they'd appreciate much more is the reinstatement of the seating, ripped out of the shelter for a second time by the city bureaucrats.

The latest episode of seat removal, last Wednesday, was chapter three in the council's primitive attempts to eradicate the homeless problem. Or more accurately, to move it on from the corner of Hobson and Victoria Sts.

This intersection is, from time to time, a favoured spot for the windscreen washers.

There's little doubt they're an irritation to the motorists, blood pressure on high as they jostle for front-of-grid spot on the Hobson St motorway on-ramp.

They're also a risk to themselves. But for those of us waiting west of the intersection in the cavernous bus stop built in under the TVNZ HQ building, it can be a much-needed diversion. Particularly when the five-minute wait drags into 15 minutes or more.

Like other wandering tribes, the itinerants tend to come and go over the months, but when they're washing windows in our part of town, they set up temporary base in the city end of the bus shelter.

While the support crew guard the beer and the water buckets, the washers dart and wobble back and forth between the cars.

In my experience, they've kept to their end of the voluminous stop, and we travellers gather in ours. As to what happens later at night I've no idea, though the odd stains on the pavement suggest the night people's territory might spread once the buses stop.

In early March, in response, apparently, to complaints, Auckland Council marched in with their hacksaws one day and removed all the seats. This was its sensitive way of handling the problem of homelessness.

Just move the waifs and strays on. That it wasn't a solution at all, and inconvenienced a new group of citizens to boot, didn't seem to matter.

When I complained to Auckland Transport - which controls not only the buses but the city's roads and footpaths as well - it blamed the Auckland Council, saying it had acted out of turn and without consultation.

The upshot was that about a third of the seating was reinstated, though none of the new benches was quite long enough for sleeping. That was my suspicious theory.

Oh yes, and I did get an abusive message or two from fellow passengers who said, "Good riddance".

In recent weeks, the itinerants seemed to have gone walkabout, which is why it came as a surprise last Wednesday to discover the replacement seats had suddenly been cut off and taken away, except for two remnants - each just wide enough to accommodate a couple of passengers.

With 10 or more customers often waiting for the Link or buses to the inner west, it seemed an odd message to be sending loyal and long-suffering passengers.

Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter admitted that this time it was her organisation that was responsible.

"There's an issue with drunken vagrants around the area," she says, and it was done "so as not to encourage people who loiter".

As for those of us forced to loiter with our HOP cards because of the irregular bus services, she said: "We need to discuss further internally about what we can do."

Of course, the sensible thing would have been to discuss solutions before ripping out the seats and annoying fare-paying passengers.

Surely there's a Rugby World Cup liquor ban they could invoke.

Installing some bright lighting as well, and some classical muzak, which keeps people moving along the covered overbridge at the railway station next to Auckland Transport's Henderson headquarters, would be worth a try.

Of course, as the organisers of Thursday's Big Sleepout emphasise, Auckland Council should be considering something much better and more compassionate than just moving the homeless on.

And while they are, please can they give us back our seats.

- NZ Herald

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