En­ter world of the home­less in city


In my role as Night­shel­ter man­ager I have al­ways spent time talk­ing to ser­vice groups and adult stu­dents about the Night­shel­ter and about home­less­ness and feel very at ease do­ing so.

With adults it is easy to get a mes­sage across and they are able to de­cide why they think peo­ple are home­less or some­times de­cide why some peo­ple de­serve to be home­less.

With chil­dren I am al­ways try­ing to be care­ful about how I ex­plain home­less­ness.

So re­cently an in­ter­ac­tion I had with some chil­dren again chal­lenged me to try and get a mes­sage across to them that would give them an in­sight into the world of the Night­shel­ter and home­less­ness.

I was re­cently vis­ited at the Night­shel­ter by a cou­ple of chil­dren from a coun­try school who were do­ing a pro­ject on a so­cial is­sue. I showed them around the shel­ter and in­formed them of the ser­vice we pro­vide and the dif­fer­ent types of guests we catered for.

Af­ter we fin­ished the walk around we sat down and I asked them what they wanted to achieve from their pro­ject. One of them said very en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and se­ri­ously that they had a plan of build­ing lit­tle houses on the side of the road for all the home­less.

Af­ter a short con­ver­sa­tion they de­cided that maybe their pro­ject could be to host me visit­ing their school and talk­ing to their class about home­less­ness and the night shel­ter.

They or­gan­ised my visit and they had gath­ered 20 or so class mates and I did a power point pre­sen­ta­tion and at the end it was open for ques­tions.

The first ques­tion was from a young girl. What would it be like to live in a car? I just ex­plained that if you were liv­ing in a car and you were go­ing to school it would be very hard to do your home­work.

A com­ment from a young lad, ‘‘I think it’s sad that per­son doesn’t have any­where to live.’’

An­other ques­tion from a young girl, ‘‘should I give money to the man I saw on the street with a sign?’’

I replied, I’ll buy them some­thing to eat but I won’t give them money, be­cause some­times peo­ple don’t spend money in ways that will help them. If I give them food I know this will help them.

One thing I have learnt when talk­ing to chil­dren about home­less­ness is that they have a gen­uine cu­rios­ity about home­less­ness and that how I an­swer their ques­tions will have a long term ef­fect on their view of the home­less per­son.

I also be­lieve that my an­swers need to model em­pa­thy and that a child needs to un­der­stand that home­less­ness is not a crime.

With ever-in­creas­ing num­bers of home­less in New Zealand chil­dren are go­ing to ask their par­ents ques­tions about home­less­ness and my rec­om­men­da­tion to any par­ent is to show em­pa­thy and an­swer ques­tions as hon­estly and non­judg­men­tally as pos­si­ble.


Let­ters must be no more than 200 words and re­ceived by noon, Fri­days. Hamil­ton Press also wel­comes opin­ion ar­ti­cles from read­ers, of about 400 words. Send in your con­tri­bu­tions to re­porter: kelley.tantau@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz

Peter Humphreys, Hamil­ton Chris­tian Night­shel­ter.

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