The owner of a Tauranga vegetarian cafe has helped a local rough sleeper find a home - and hopefully a job - using social media.

Sharna McElligott, of The Nourished Eatery, posted a photo of the man, who asked to be named only as Stu, to her company's Facebook page on October 18 asking anyone with a spare room to contact her.

The next day a woman who saw the post offered Stu a room in her home for $130 a week and he moved in about a week ago.

Since then he's been flooded with donations from others in the community.


"People were just so willing to help. People brought him a phone, clothing, shoes, cutlery, stationery. It's so nice," McElligott said.

Stu had become well-known in the area for his optimism and for holding a cardboard sign that read "I would rather beg than steal".

The 46-year-old said he wrote the sign after a fellow streetie told him to shoplift what he needed, something he said he would never do.

"As hard as it is to sit on the footpath with my hat out, I'd rather do that than be sitting in the courtroom being charged with shoplifting or theft of any kind."

Most of all Stu said he wanted to work, but he struggled to get a job without an address.

"It's pretty hard to wake on the footpath and go to work for 10 hours and then come back and sleep on the footpath."

He said he had always been employed before being made redundant from his job as a scaffolder in Auckland about two years ago and found himself homeless shortly after that because he could no longer pay the $380 a week for the house he had been renting.

Now he had accommodation again Stu said he was keen to get to back to work as soon as possible.


Another person who had seen McElligott's Facebook post had helped him write a CV and Stu said he had gone for an interview for a role as a digger driver this week but was yet to hear back about whether he'd got it.

He had been overwhelmed by people's generosity, particularly after being looked down on and sometimes even spat on while begging.

"It blew me away. I had a few tears in my eyes," he said.

He was also looking forward to the sense of normality that came from having a home and a job.

"I miss getting home from work every night, having a munch, a shower, watching TV, having a cold beer, once a week going to play rugby with the golden oldies or something. Just living, not existing, living."

He said he started rough sleeping after burning through his savings quickly after being laid off and after losing his rental property was declined by WINZ for assistance because he had earned too much the previous month when he had still been working.


He then planned to sleep in a stairwell on Auckland's Queen St and beg until he had saved enough to get by and set up his life again but found himself stuck in a rut, he said.

About a month ago, after a woman put $40 in his hat, Stu bought a ticket on a Mana Bus to Rotorua. From there he hitchhiked to Tauranga.

He told the Weekend Herald he wanted to start over in the city because he had a daughter living in a nearby Bay of Plenty town.

Then Stu met McElligott, who he says is "an angel".

McElligott said she had seen him near her cafe, which does "pay it forward" coffees, and one day last month a woman came in and bought a coffee for the friendly homeless man outside - Stu.

He came in to get it and McElligott asked why he was homeless.


She was touched by his response and his positivity and decided to use her large following on social media to help him.

Stu said he wanted to help those less fortunate too by one day working with at-risk youth.

Living on the streets taught him to make the best of any situation and that everyone had a story, he said.

Steph O'Sullivan, chairwoman of Our Community Project (formerly Tauranga Homelessness Steering Group), which helps people affected by chronic homelessness, said it was fantastic to hear how local residents had helped Stu.

"How's that for a community stepping up and being open-hearted and generous?"

The city's mayor Greg Brownless added the way people rallied around Stu showed "community in action".


"It's great that someone was able to help and that [Stu] accepted that help too."