COMMENT:

Hands together for the lateral thinker at Auckland Transport who came up with idea of using the new $49 million Manukau bus station as an overnight shelter for rough sleepers.

As the Salvation Army's Alan Johnson says, it's not ideal, but "at least it is a roof over someone's head" that will "keep them a little bit warmer than if they were sleeping under a bridge or in a car park."

At a time when National Party leader Simon Bridges is drumming up votes in Tauranga accusing the local council of being "far too soft" on banning local beggars and rough sleepers from local streets, it's a welcome glimmer of compassion in our increasingly harsh society.

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What is disappointing is how narrow the vision is. They plan to cater for just 15-20 of Manukau's estimated 50 rough sleepers, giving them a mattress and soup at night, then a quick breakfast before booting them out before 7am.

And it's only for the next four weeks, by which time, AT presumably believes, global warming will have turned up the late August night temperature to a cosy, rain free, 20 degrees!

Also, if it's possible in the south of the city, then why not, out north and west, and in particular the CBD, where the much grander Britomart Transport Station seems an obvious guest billet for the rough sleepers, who currently make their home on Queen St and adjacent CBD doorways and lanes.

In 2016, an Auckland City Mission street count recorded 177 rough sleepers within three kilometres of the Sky Tower and a further 51 "street sleepers" who were temporarily in emergency accommodation or hospital. A year ago, Auckland Council estimated a region-wide total of 771 "rough sleepers."

In mid-September, the council will spend $375,000 on a region-wide census to get a up to date snapshot of the problem. Announcing plans for the "snapshot" in mid-June, Mayor Phil Goff admitted "not enough has been done" to understand and try and solve Auckland's "chronic homelessness" problem.

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

He said:"We are most worried about the people living in dangerous and life threatening conditions out on the street where they will die prematurely because of the cold, because of illness, maybe as a victim of crime."

However valuable an accurate census might be for future policy makers, it's not going to help those tucking themselves up in shop fronts and bus shelters tonight.

The mayor only has to walk a few steps past his very own town hall, to confront the problem face to face. It's not hidden away in back alleys. It's a shame alive on Auckland's front door. That's why, the Manukau Bus Station proposal, for all its short-comings, is a glimmer of hope.

It also a reminder of our warped sense of priorities.

At the beginning of the year, the millionaire yachties of Team New Zealand suddenly started pounding on the mayor's door, demanding a flash free home for themselves and their overseas yachting mates on prime real estate down on the Auckland waterfront.

Gimme, gimme, gimme now, they yelled, or we'll take our yacht race off to Italy or Siberia or where ever.

The council and the Government quickly crumbled. Sorry, sorry, Mr Dalton sir, they sobbed. The city alone stumped up $98.5 million in ratepayers' funds to enable the building of home bases for the Team New Zealand's foreign mates.

On top of that, the politicians tossed in the prestigious council-owned Viaduct Events Centre, rent-free as Team New Zealand's home for up to seven years – a gift of $13 million in forgone rent.

It was a rich man's crisis, full of bluster and blarney about future economic benefits, quickly resolved behind closed doors, without recourse to such time-wasting, as seeking out the boring facts.

If finding a rent-free palace for our spoilt yachties and their jet-setting mates is so easy, then why not the same fast-track action for the poor Aucklanders that the mayor worries are "living in dangerous and life threatening conditions out in the street."

There's always The Cloud on Queens Wharf -that under-used relic from the Rugby World Cup – that could be quickly dusted down, or, as I suggested earlier, the Britomart Transport Station.