John MacDonald: I'm torn over Christchurch's makeshift camp for the homeless

Photo: NZ Herald
Photo: NZ Herald
OPINION: There’s a surgeon in Christchurch who owns a prime piece of real estate in the central city, right across the road from the five-star George Hotel.

The section is worth about $4 million and the surgeon and his partner had planned to build on it at some point but they changed their minds. And so the section is vacant.

Well, vacant in terms of a permanent structure but not completely vacant - because the surgeon and his partner have allowed a group of about six homeless guys to move in and set-up a makeshift camp.

They cook on a small fire. They get water through a hose connected to a tap next door. They’ve got a vege garden going and they sleep in shelters made from security fences and other bits and pieces. As for going to the toilet, they use the public loos over in Hagley Park.

This is all going on right across the road from the George Hotel and not far from a couple of private schools.

It’s being reported today that the surgeon is allowing this to happen on his piece of land because he feels sorry for these guys. He says he goes there about a couple of times a week to check on things and has told them to keep their heads down and stay out of trouble.

He says these guys haven’t had easy lives and, at least by doing what he’s doing, they’ve got somewhere to go and relax. Because places like homeless shelters aren’t an option for people with drug and alcohol addictions or for people who generally struggle with authority.

Which, on the face of it, is a very admirable and charitable approach, isn’t it?

Here you’ve got one of the city’s top surgeons, who can afford to own a $4 million section and do nothing with it, whose life is a million miles away from the life these homeless guys live - and he is actually doing something to help.

He’s doing far more than I’ve ever done to help the homeless. Probably far more than you’ve ever done too.

So, if you just consider it from that aspect, he is certainly doing the right thing.

The problem is, he doesn’t live there and so he doesn’t have to put up with some of the activity that’s apparently going on around the area where this makeshift camp is.

People living nearby say that at nights and on weekends things go pear-shaped, with people off their heads on drugs, urinating in the streets and spraying graffiti.

They say the camp itself is one thing, but everything that goes on around the place is something else altogether. And they’re not happy that the surgeon is allowing these guys to stay there.

As for the guys living on the site in the makeshift shelters and things, they think the property owner is a great guy and say the main rule is to respect the place and respect others.

What’s more, one of them has said that more people are welcome to move onto the site but they’d have to build their own huts. So even though there are apparently about six people camped there at the moment, it could get bigger. Which is the last thing the residents in the area will be wanting to hear.

It seems the city council is looking into it but, you know, this is the same council that did a very good job of turning a blind eye to the anti-mandate Cranmer Square occupation early last year. So I don’t think the people who are upset about this should hold their breath on that front.

But is the owner of this land doing the right thing or the wrong thing allowing these people to live in this makeshift camp?

On one hand, what he’s doing is actually very charitable. He could be doing all sorts of things with a $4 million plot of land. But he’s not - not now anyway - and so he’s made it available to people with nowhere else to live. So, in that regard, I think he’s doing the right thing.

But he’s not living there, and he’s not having to put up with the people off their nuts on drugs yelling and screaming and scaring people. He’s not having his place graffitied. And he’s not going into this weekend wondering what the people living there and all the others who show up day and night are going to get up to.

So, in that respect, I think he’s doing the wrong thing. Which means I’m torn - I think he’s doing the right thing and the wrong thing.

-By John MacDonald, Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch