Oval death ‘inevitable’; warning more to come

Tents are pitched in the makeshift homeless encampment in Kensington Oval, where a man died on...
Tents are pitched in the makeshift homeless encampment in Kensington Oval, where a man died on Monday. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The death of a homeless man in a makeshift encampment at Dunedin’s Kensington Oval is an "inevitable" consequence of a lack of social housing and more deaths are likely, charity campaigners warn.

Homeless witnesses said the man was found face down in the tent he lived in on Monday afternoon.

A growing community of homeless people are living in tents, vans and cars in the Kensington Oval carpark, on nearby park land and in surrounding bushes next to the motorway.

The Dunedin City Council collects rubbish and provides a portable toilet, but no other facilities.

A homeless man told the Otago Daily Times "I put him in the recovery position because no-one else wanted to touch him".

A shut-down of substandard boarding houses — including the Carisbrook hotel — was making homelessness "harder for us".

"All we want is a roof, a toilet and a shower."

Another homeless man said they had been left "too long" without a home.

"It has got to the point where we are not going to ask for help, no-one cares about us, no-one cares about our story."

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) had provided money for necessities such as food but social housing or a private rental was proving impossible.

The council had also not helped, he said.

"The council comes here and picks up rubbish bags but they don’t care about me."

Only security guards and the police had come by, he said.

Night shelter manager David McKenzie said there would be more deaths "due to the pressures on people living rough".

"It is an inevitable consequence of the lack of housing and services."

A death last year in a Phillips St boarding house fire was another example, he said.

Dunedin Bedding Bank volunteer Janine Walker, who provides tents and bedding for homeless people, has been trying to support people at Kensington Oval.

Ms Walker described the death on Monday as "another massive message to Dunedin City Council and the Ministry of Social Development that leaving people with nowhere to live results in tragedy".

"It will always happen sooner or later if people are not housed with support they need."

As well as waiting lists for social housing and a squeezed private rental market, Dunedin has no outreach service helping homeless people into an appropriate place to live, with support they need.

Ms Walker is still providing hot drinks and other support to a 60-year-old woman — who the ODT reported on in October — who has lived in bushes under a thin tarpaulin for four years.

Ms Walker said the MSD had rung her to find out about the death and ask who was living at Kensington Oval but she had declined to provide information, to protect confidentiality.

MSD regional commissioner Steph Voight confirmed a staff member had rung Ms Walker, and the agency was "saddened to learn this person died".

The agency encouraged anyone sleeping rough to contact the ministry.

There was a "wide range of support which may be available".

Ms Voight has previously told the ODT two homeless people who have lived at Kensington Oval faced "challenges" accessing emergency or transitional housing because suppliers, such as moteliers, were aware of "past behaviours".

One anonymous source from a social service charity described the man who died as having a serious alcohol addiction and "very severe needs".

"There was nowhere for him in this city that could cater for these needs."

Another homeless man said he had cared about the dead man, who "couldn’t function" without consuming excessive alcohol and was "always falling over".

"People like him should be first on the list, they need immediate help.

"He’s dead now, and that could all have been prevented."

A witness of the death — who is not a homeless person — said emergency services did CPR for more than half an hour before covering the body with a sheet.

The other homeless people became "quite distraught".

"It is really sad that someone has spent their last moments homeless in a tent, not in the comfort of family and friends."

The council was unable to respond by deadline.