He is built like a prize fighter, he is articulate and humble. His body is decorated with a lifetime of ink and if the lighting is favorable he resembles a young Vin Diesel.
In another lifetime maybe he could have been an action movie star too.
But this isn’t another lifetime and the only film he might’ve starred in was Crime Watch.
John* admits he has been in a lot of trouble in his life.
He started out early as a state ward, and reckons the roller doors that appeared on Otara shop fronts in the late 70’s was because of him and his mates.
Now however, John just wants a safe, warm and dry place to sleep.
While traffic flows into the city via the off ramp above, John sits on a double bed his partner is also sleeping on.
The bed takes up half the space of their single room tent.
It is home. Shoes line up on the astroturf at the door and through the vestibule opposite residents can view bright lights, big city.
John is homeless. Not hopeless.
John was released from prison last October and says he has had no help from ‘the system’.
‘Probation, says they are going to help, says John. But it never happens. I don’t know how the system works. I don’t know how to work their system, so I just settled here.”
John says between five and 20 people are now living under a motorway off ramp, behind a chain mail fence cordoning off an otherwise unused space.
“I bring people here who have nowhere to live, says John. We are safe here. I never done this for myself. It’s not about me. I see people and I tell them to come down here.
“I don’t know if it was the council guys but some people came and gave us some rubbish bags. I clean up ’cause it keeps me out of trouble,” says John.
John receives $150 each week from Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) but believes some squatters are receiving as much as $300 per week.
“$150 doesn’t go far,” says John.
Recently John and his small community have been receiving regular visits from police officers at inconvenient intervals day, night, and dawn. John says he believes the police attention is harassment because he is known to them.
“The police came the other night and said I had to pack my stuff up and leave, says John. Where are we meant to go? Do they want us all sleeping on K’ Road? I want my own place. If I had my own place I would stay out of trouble”
A police spokesperson issued the following statement after a request for comment,
Police are not immediately aware of this.
Rough sleeping, begging or being homeless are in themselves not criminal offences, but police are called from time-to-time to deal with issues around matters involving public disorder or complaints about anti-social behaviour in the central city.
Police are continuing to work alongside and have meetings with our partner agencies in our community to find long term solutions for homelessness.