On a cold night in Napier, a motley group gathers around the warmth emanating from the Swannell family's mobile soup kitchen.

Last night there were about 20 people - of all ages - lining up for their share on the fringes of Clive Square.

Kiri and Kevin Swannell serve them cups of soup and give out pre-packed bags of snacks for later.

Most of the crowd will return home when they have had their fill, but some will sleep on the streets.


Chris, 52, is a former family man who has become so accustomed to sleeping rough that he chooses the ground over a bed.

"This will be my fourth winter," he said, dipping a piece of bread in a paper cupful of soup.

When he parted from his family three years ago, Chris found himself in Napier with nowhere to stay.

While he refrains from telling Hawke's Bay Today specifics about his past, he is candid about life on the streets.

He was recently given accommodation for three weeks but found it "too uncomfortable" sleeping indoors.

"It's claustrophobic," he said, gesturing with his hands to indicate the four walls of a bedroom.

He said he preferred "sleeping out" and had decided to return to the streets.

He usually sleeps on Napier Beach, in Clive Square, or in the entranceway of a nearby condemned building.

He does not sleep in the same place for too long.

He keeps warm in winter with "lots of blankets" or lights a small fire on the beach.

It is also helpful to sleep with a layer of flattened cardboard boxes between him and the ground, which acts as insulation.

It was difficult to get a good night's sleep, he said.

He retires about midnight and traffic on the road often keeps him awake. On Friday and Saturday nights, drunken bar patrons disturb him.

He is woken by street cleaners at 5am.

During the day, he stashes his blankets away in some bushes, but sometimes returns to his hiding place to find someone has handed the bedding in to police.

Homeless people often have to pick up their bedding from the police station.

On other occasions, Chris has returned to his stash to find someone has left him a gift of money or food.

At least once a week, somebody approached him on the street during the day and offered him cash or a meal, he said, but "others aren't so lucky".

Chris said that, until six months ago, he had known of five other people sleeping rough in Napier - he described them as "the original five" - but now he knew about 12 people.

He visits the mobile soup kitchen when it operates on Monday and Thursday nights.

He also attends other meal services, provided by local churches.

The soup kitchen was a huge help, he said.

He was one of the first people to use it when it began last year.

Asked what he does for food when it isn't provided to him, he responds: "Nothing."

As 7pm approaches, it is time for the Swannell family to pack up for the night.

The small crowd disperses into the cold.

Having finished his soup, Chris wanders off down the road, toward some dark corner where his blankets lie stowed.