Park up for Homes: Hundreds spend night in cars in support of homeless families

By Solbin Kang

On a cold night, they gathered in solidarity in a suburban carpark.

For one evening, they had come together, young and old, to experience what hundreds of rough sleepers endure every night.

An army of empathy, up to 1000 strong, they shared jokes and hot chocolates at the Mangere Town Centre in South Auckland, where homelessness is reaching a crisis point.

Friends Olivia Tausinga (left) and Sisifa Fukofuka park up in Olivia's car. Picture / Jason Oxenham
Friends Olivia Tausinga (left) and Sisifa Fukofuka park up in Olivia's car. Picture / Jason Oxenham

They had pledged to sleep in their cars to show support for Aucklanders sleeping rough. Most came well prepared with sleeping bags, blankets and pillows for the chilly night ahead.

Spokeswoman for the cause, Annaliese Johnston, said this morning she was thrilled about the number of people, many of them children, who had turned out to support.

"They just kept coming until quite late. We're estimating about 600 cars and there's quite a few people. There's families in those cars. So I think we probably met our expectation of about 1000 people, which is awesome."

Children ran in the carpark, some already in their pyjamas, sipping on a milo and eating sausages from the barbecue. A few started retreating to their cars by 8pm, but most stayed huddled around a brightly lit area of the carpark, talking and laughing with friends and family.

Dan Percy, 9, was among the kids at the carpark and only managed about two hours sleep in a cramped car, but would still be going to school today.

He said things weren't all that comfortable in the car, but everyone got along.

Mangere MP Su'a William Sio says he took part in the Park Up For Homes event to show empathy with those who have to live in their cars.

"There's a groundswell of people in New Zealand who think and believe that this is wrong, that there is a crisis despite what the government says."

Several Labour MPs and a Green MP slept in their cars overnight in South Auckland but it appeared no National MPs turned up.

"But we did invite them," Sio said.

Last night's Park Up for Homes event was organised by a group of Mangere flatmates - a lawyer, graphic designer and community law centre advocate - aiming to raise awareness about the growing issue of homelessness.

Papatoetoe resident Reece Autagavaia brought his sons Setima, 4, and Taumai, 2, to sleep in a van with a mattress in the back.

The two young boys played on a gaming device in the opened boot of the van.

Their aunt, Sina Faumuina, also here for the night, said the boys were enjoying themselves and thought they were camping.

Mr Autagavaia said homelessness was a disappointing reality.

"It's our little way of saying that this is not good enough. No child should live in a car."

Mrs Faumuina said she couldn't imagine enduring such a life day in and day out. "We're here to support them and bring about the awareness it deserves."

Julie Meagher and her son Noah, 19, travelled from Te Awamutu to show support.

"It's not right that people in New Zealand should be homeless, especially families," she said.

"We just want to show solidarity to show we care, that New Zealanders do care and that it's wrong and something should be done about it."

Organiser Justin Latif said the aim was to challenge politicians to work together to find solutions.

"This is a long game that needs to be played. Politicians need to sit down and work out how they are going to sort out social housing in New Zealand," he said.

Ms Johnston said many had arrived after seeing the event publicised on Facebook.

People felt they needed to support those within their community who were forced to live in their cars because they could not afford a home.

Others admitted they too had been in the same situation at some point of their lives.

"It's a real mix [of people], but there's a collective sense of wanting better and wanting something different for our country," Ms Johnston said.

"I think it's just awesome to see people getting on board this waka and saying: 'Our family wants to stand with your family'."

Park Up events are being planned in Otara, South Auckland, and Wellington within the next week.

Ms Johnston, who was among organisers to sleep in their vehicles last night. admitted she had struggled to sleep because of the cold.

"It's pretty full on. I don't know how people do it every night and then go to work the next morning. It's incredible."

Mr Latif drove around Mangere from about 10.30pm several weeks ago and found people sleeping in 12 cars at Mangere Town Centre, outside Mangere East Countdown, behind Manukau City Football Club, behind a hospice shop in Montgomerie Rd, under a tree further along that road and in the airport shopping district.

He said homelessness in the area was nothing new. "It's just a group of mates who work around Mangere and we all kind of have seen this for a few years."

Politicians were among those gathered last night, including Labour's Mangere MP Su'a William Sio and the Green Party's Marama Davidson, who slept in their cars.

Groups working with the homeless also attended, including the Salvation Army, Lifewise, the Child Poverty Action Group and the local Te Puea Marae - now famous for taking in homeless people over the winter season.

The Government is under increasing scrutiny over its handling of the Auckland housing crisis and accompanying homelessness.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said the Government had been working on making more emergency housing available since early last year, with a review of the sector under way.

Last month's Budget allocated $41 million to fund 3000 emergency housing places and a special emergency grant that would not need to be paid back.

That comes on top of $2.5 million for 120 emergency places in Auckland each year.

"The Government has committed to providing places in motels in Auckland for those in extreme need - they will not have to pay the cost of the motel room back. Motels will be provided on a short-term basis while we work to move them into something more permanent," she said.

"It is putting more resources into helping community providers and other agencies assist those in need into accommodation, whether this is in motels, emergency housing or other accommodation."

- NZ Herald

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