Walking that mile
RADIO host Richie Hardcore is trading in his creature comforts for one night to sleep on cold concrete – an experience he says is a devastating everyday reality for many Aucklanders.
Mr Hardcore is one of more than 70 influential New Zealanders who will be roughing it for the Big Sleepout next week.
The annual event is organised by not-for-profit agency Lifewise to raise money to help people out of homelessness.
Mr Hardcore became an advocate for the issue after he started talking to vagrants on the city’s streets earlier this year.
He says he often buys a meal for them and gets their permission to share their photos and stories on social media.
‘‘They open up big time and regardless of their variances the general theme is a really traumatic history,’’ the Grey Lynn resident says.
‘‘I think there is a mainstream conception that people who are homeless, or beggars, or addicts, choose to be that way, when in fact it is far from it. There is just not the support networks that middle and upper class people have.’’
Mr Hardcore says other recurring themes during his discussions are sexual abuse, imprisonment and hunger.
‘‘I met a guy who had been incarcerated for at least twothirds of his life from a young age. Where is he going to get the skills to get ahead in our culture?’’
Lifewise says rough counts indicate there are about 100 people on the streets at any one time in Auckland’s CBD.
And while it is hard to assess the true size of the problem the case load for the Lifewise homeless support team has grown 260 per cent since 2008.
Mr Hardcore, who works for the Auckland Council to reduce the harmful affects of drugs and alcohol on young people, believes homelessness is a societal problem and would like to see more compassion shown towards rough sleepers.
‘‘It could be you or it could be someone you care about. If you talk to people like Lifewise or the City Mission they say that it only takes three major life events for someone to go from a standard life to being homeless,’’ he says.
‘‘Imagine how low you have to get to sit on the concrete asking complete strangers for coins. Imagine how low your self-esteem would have to be.
‘‘Why not consider that’s a human being.
‘‘That’s a person who has feelings, hopes and desires,’’ he says.
Lifewise started the Big Sleepout in 2010 and with the funds raised so far it has been able to place more than 124 homeless individuals in permanent accommodation.
Participants for this year’s event include politicians and business people who will be bedding down in an open-air plaza on the AUT University campus for the night.
Each will have a sleeping bag and a piece of cardboard to make themselves comfortable.
People can sponsor the ‘‘rough sleepers’’ through the Big Sleepout website.
But Lifewise general manager John McCarthy says the Big Sleepout is much more than a fundraising event.
‘‘Lifewise is making significant progress to ending homelessness in Auckland but it’s a complex issue requiring action at many levels,’’ he says.
‘‘We know that old approaches don’t cut it. Lifewise has changed its approach but we need to find innovative solutions to other pieces of the puzzle and this is partly what the Big Sleepout aims to do this year.’’
Mr Hardcore says he appreciates Lifewise’s holistic approach to the issue, which is part of the reason he chose to take part in the event.
‘‘I’m actually not looking forward to sleeping outside, I’m a bad enough sleeper as it is,’’ he says.
‘‘But it’s cool that all these people have come together for one night of discomfort to raise money.’’
The Big Sleepout takes place on July 4.
Sleeping rough: 95bFM radio host Richie Hardcore became interested in the issue of homelessness after talking to rough sleepers on the city streets.