Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Formerly homeless men star in Auckland City Mission fundraising video

Former rough sleepers Richard Turipa, left, and Rob Smith with their theatre tutor Bronwyn Bent at St-Matthew-in-the-City. Photo / Simon Collins
Former rough sleepers Richard Turipa, left, and Rob Smith with their theatre tutor Bronwyn Bent at St-Matthew-in-the-City. Photo / Simon Collins

Two formerly homeless men have become stars in a fundraising video for the Auckland City Mission that lets viewers see the world through the eyes of a rough sleeper.

Rob Smith and Richard Turipa, both 36, were picked to make the film because they are members of the Mission's Hobson Street Theatre Company. They say the theatre group, which has met weekly for the past six years, has given them confidence they never had before.

"Being part of the group, and being part of good people again, brought me out of my shell - from being closed off and not talkative and having a terrible chip on my shoulder, to now coming back and reconnecting with my family and just being part of the community instead of feeling like a burden on society," Turipa said.

In the video, A Harsh Reality, the two men are filmed in the city at night with a GoPro-style camera that lets the viewer see their world with 360-degree vision, either tilting a phone up and down or around or, on a desktop computer, clicking on an icon at the top-left of the screen to look up, down, left and right.

"That was the first time that camera hit the Southern Hemisphere," Smith said.

"That opportunity came because we have been available in the theatre company. I think we are pretty good. It really helps with the confidence and all that. A couple of years ago I probably wouldn't have talked to you."

Smith hails from Northland's Ngapuhi iwi, but his family moved "all over the place" and he ended up sleeping on the streets for just over a year.

"I was travelling around and trying to find work. I couldn't afford rent, and I didn't want to stay with family because I could see that they were struggling as well, so I chose to go rough for a while," he said.

Turipa, from the Tuhoe iwi in the Bay of Plenty, slept on the streets on and off for three years.

"It was basically just losing jobs and then running out of money to be able to afford things like rent and food," he said.

"In those times you are just wondering how you're going to get by, so you might spend some on alcohol, and then it was, 'Okay, I'm getting drunk, there's no work, and you're feeling not too confident about things, and you don't have that much family support around because they've moved overseas or around other parts of the country. Also I had a gambling problem, all those things were factors."

He credits the theatre company, tutored by Bronwyn Bent, and other activities at the Mission with helping him to change and keep an apartment that he moved into two and a half years ago.

"I stopped drinking, gambling and fighting," he said. "It was coming in and getting assistance from the Mission and doing the activities. Now that I'm off all the alcohol and gambling and all that, I can see through the fog, I can see the future."

Turipa has worked in security before and wants to get his security licence back so he can work again.

Smith wants to find work as "peer support" for other people to move off the streets into a house.

Three other activity groups at the Mission will exhibit their work in art, carving and clay modelling at the Depot Artspace in Devonport from July 23 to August 10.

- NZ Herald

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