Homeless people sleeping rough pose a visible challenge to all of us. Poverty is usually easy to avoid, hidden in houses, its effects apparent only to teachers, social workers and health and disability services. But the poor who camp in public places and beg in the city's streets make themselves very visible.

Most of us walk steadfastly past them, avoiding eye contact and, if we are honest, resent their presence. We find it an affront to our society and the adequacy of its state supports. It is easy to blame the homeless for their failure to fit into the supports provided, but that becomes harder as their numbers rise. At last count, 177 people are sleeping rough in the central city this winter, compared to 68 three years ago.

Something is not right but individually, what can we do? James Gavet, a professional rugby league player with the Warriors, and his sister Riverlina, put us to shame in Michael Burgess' feature today. They go their local supermarket, buy some chicken, buns and fruit and make food parcels that they take around the neighbourhood, handing out to any homeless people who want them.

They are not looking for praise, they did not want publicity, but their impulse is too inspiring to be hidden. Generosity is a matter of fact for them. They can supply what people need, so they do.


Not all the homeless want food, some want only money, probably to assuage an addiction, and the Gavets do not oblige them. Charity ought not be indiscriminate. But that is an easy excuse when cash is all we have. Rather than hurry past, refusing their plea for a hand out, more of us could them a morsel if they want it. In the city, food is never far away.

Gavet was playing in Australia when he started volunteering at a Sydney soup kitchen and later, with the Broncos, he distributed food and drink to the homeless near Brisbane. Australia has some well-developed private enterprises for helping the homeless.

Lunch bars serving specialty soups and sandwiches have signs inviting customers to buy an extra serving for the homeless, and many do.

Sponsored mobile bathrooms move around Melbourne providing vagrants with a free shower, shave and haircut. What better way to provide an opportunity to lift themselves up?

The number sleeping rough in Auckland this winter cannot be ignored. Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett seems moved and has talked of putting them up in motels if necessary. Something must be done. Individually, we should at least let them know they are visible and we will not see them starve.