Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

A life - and then death - on the streets

Police cordon on Queen Street after a man found overnight. 15 September 2016. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Police cordon on Queen Street after a man found overnight. 15 September 2016. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

Living on the streets is rough.

But even out here, where you are forced to be brave, bad news still pierces just as loudly as the sirens that can sometimes frequent the night.

"Jono's dead'' - two words which instantly define a reality, a mystery and, given the circumstances, possibly dread.

The man whose body was found lifeless in downtown Auckland's Queen St this week had been among those living the street life.

Jonathan Tera Ngere - known as Jono, or Jonno, to his mates on the streets - had been sleeping rough for some time before his life ended in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The 34-year-old's body was found outside a block of shops near the McDonald's Restaurant.

A long-time friend, know as Magic, said he was sleeping across the road when it is thought a fight broke out between Jono and at least two others between midnight and 1am.

"He did get a hiding. A few other guys came in and gang-bashed him.

"Two other witnesses were there with him that night. They came up behind me and said: 'Jono's dead'.

"I said: 'Jono?' They said: 'Magic - Jono'! I couldn't believe it until I woke the next morning and I seen all these tents and tarpaulins around.

"I thought: 'It is Jono'.''

Emergency services were called to the scene about 1am. Police said the circumstances surrounding the man's death were not known and classified it as "unexplained.''

Police this afternoon released the results of a post-mortem examination.

"As a result of the examination and the inquiries made by officers since early yesterday, police are no longer treating Mr Ngere's death as suspicious and it will be referred to the coroner."

A woman who spoke to the Weekend Herald said she had seen the victim smoking shortly before he suddenly fell backwards - hitting his head on the ground.

She said Jono had recently got out of jail and was happy to be out again.

Magic also acknowledged that Jono had spent time behind bars.

"He was peaceful, he was happy. He was glad to be out. He wanted to carry on with his life, to carry on living - the way we are - but someone had to come around and stuffed it up.''

Standing in front of a make-shift shrine to their late friend, Magic points out the various items laid carefully together: A skateboard, a small white rabbit, blue and red handkerchiefs, a McDonald's apple pie and a rose on a Starter cap.

"RIP Jonno'' has been written just beneath.

It's not much, but it means a lot, Magic says.

He proudly explains that members of Jono's "real family'' visited the site on Thursday night, where they said a blessing.

Magic acknowledged that Jono was also very much loved by his "street family'' and that they too would be honouring his memory in their own way.

"With Jono ... he may be a funny chap, but deep in his heart, he's a good guy.

"We're hoping to ... let him rest in peace. The brother Jono, we loved him to the max. He's been with us for a generation. Now we're hoping for the best luck with his family to take him back home."

Asked whether this was a sad part of life, for those on the streets, Magic was philosophical.

"That could've happened to anyone - to you, anyone in the public or it could've happened to [me].

"As far as the street life is concerned, we're having to defend ourselves - the way he didn't.''

- NZ Herald

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