Home­less man re­mem­bered

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - CA­TRIN OWEN

‘‘He made friends eas­ily and touched the hearts of those who had dealt with him.’’

A well-known home­less man who had a cheeky smile and lov­able na­ture died on a bench in an One­hunga ceme­tery.

Keith John­son, died aged 57 on the same bench he had sat on most days for the past four years in St Peter’s ceme­tery on July 1.

John­son was not in the best of health, and his al­co­holism may have con­trib­uted to his death, those close to him say.

The public has re­sponded to John­son’s death with an out­pour­ing of grief. Me­men­tos in­clud­ing a surf­board, ta­ble spreads, flow­ers and notes have been left at the bench he used to oc­cupy.

Con­sta­ble Don Al­lan would reg­u­larly walk the beat in the morn­ing around the church and al­ways looked out for John­son.

‘‘Keith was a love­able per­son and al­ways had a cheeky smile,’’ Al­lan said.

‘‘He made friends eas­ily and touched the hearts of those who had dealt with him.’’

Al­lan said many of the home­less in One­hunga chose to live on the streets, but he con­stantly checked on them and en­cour­aged them to seek hous­ing.

John­son was also reg­u­larly mon­i­tored by other com­mu­nity mem­bers and was of­ten taken into Auck­land City Hos­pi­tal due to his poor health.

‘‘Keith be­ing Keith would of­ten dis­charge him­self from hos­pi­tal and make his way back to One­hunga where he ob­vi­ously felt a sense of fam­ily with some of the other home­less peo­ple in One­hunga,’’ Al­lan said.

Pe­tra Zaleski, the vicar at St Peter’s Church, said John­son would of­ten sit in the cor­ner of her of­fice.

She said the death of John­son had been con­fronting and high­lighted a wider prob­lem of home­less­ness in Auck­land.

There are an es­ti­mated 41,000 Ki­wis sleep­ing rough around the coun­try.

Auck­land City Mis­sioner Chris Far­relly said there was not one cause to the deaths of peo­ple who were sleep­ing rough. They usu­ally died from a cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of on­go­ing health is­sues, poor nutri­tion and ex­po­sure to the el­e­ments.

‘‘One per­son dy­ing on our streets or as a re­sult of home­less­ness is one too many,’’ he said.

‘‘We’ve had some very wet, cold nights in the win­ter so far and it is heart­break­ing to think of peo­ple sleep­ing out­side in these con­di­tions.’’

Al­lan said more needed to be done in the out­skirts of the city.

CA­TRIN OWEN/STUFF

Keith John­son died on July 1 on a park bench where he used to sleep in One­hunga.

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