Homeless camp at Oval visited by govt officials

Homeless people living in tents at the edge of the Oval in Dunedin were visited by housing...
Homeless people living in tents at the edge of the Oval in Dunedin were visited by housing officials this week. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Government officials have visited Dunedin’s homeless camp at the Oval this week, but at least one person living there remains sceptical help is on its way.

"I said to them, ‘Excuse me, but why are you here? You have declined us, declined us and declined us for houses.’ We’ll see what happens," the homeless person said.

She said she had a medical diagnosis and was "top of the list" for a house, but never got one. Homeless people were put in the "too hard basket, but we are not".

Ministry of Social Development regional director Sue Rissman said the purpose of the visit was to "have discussions with clients living in tents at the Oval about issues affecting them".

Officials on the visit were from MSD, state housing agency Kāinga Ora and the police.

Officials, armed with boxes of pizzas, asked the homeless people about their life issues, whether they were getting their benefits and whether social housing assessments needed to be done.

"As this was over lunchtime, some kai was provided by Kāinga Ora to help people feel at ease, to facilitate these conversations," she said.

Those living at the Oval include homeless people who have lived rough elsewhere. One homeless person spoken to said that living there was preferable to living on the streets in Christchurch. It was safer in Dunedin.

The No 1 priority at the Oval was safety, another homeless person agreed. Everyone there was different and should not be labelled as all having the same life challenges. People living there were helping each other to survive, including simple things such as making sure everyone had a blanket.

Some said they had been living on the street for about a year and felt it was "cool" that the government agency had come down to listen.

The tent city was the result of an "immediate problem. If they want to come and help, then they can".

The homeless people said that sometimes members of the public were stopping by and offering free food. One man had provided mattresses.

The Dunedin Bedding Bank — which provides tents and sleeping bags — was also still actively helping and a food caravan was providing food on a Sunday.

The officials’ visit happened two days after the ODT wrote about the growing number of tents. The Dunedin City Council and NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi, which jointly own the land, said in the story that they had not tracked people who were living there.

The visit also followed a meeting last week among MSD, Kāinga Ora, the night shelter and Pact’s The Apartment, which provides a place for people to go during the day.

An anonymous source in the social sector said the visit could have been helpful for some homeless people, but there were people sleeping rough across the city, not just at the Oval.