Beg­gar’s life of strug­gle, hope and dark times


Ma­jor Kee­lan, who splits his time be­tween sleep­ing rough and beg­ging for coins on Napier’s main street, once be­lieved he’d left the dark­est of times be­hind him.

Eleven years ago Kee­lan was liv­ing in Porirua. He’d just got out of the Mon­grel Mob and had adopted a baby boy from a young woman who was strug­gling to raise him.

He and his part­ner at the time planned to raise the boy with their other two younger sons.

But the re­la­tion­ship did not last, and his youngest boy caught a virus that nearly killed him. Kee­lan found him­self in ‘‘a real, real dark place’’. Like the other beg­gars sit­ting in the door­ways of Emer­son St with their card­board signs and pa­per cups for coins, 47-year-old Kee­lan has men­tal health is­sues and is prone to long and deep bouts of de­pres­sion.

‘‘I hit a real dark patch. My mis­sus left me and my baby was go­ing to die on me. [His sick son] was only about eight months. The doc­tor ex­plained it by say­ing the virus at­tacked his heart, his lungs, his kid­neys. He was in hos­pi­tal with heaps of ma­chines around him. They were close to pulling the plug on him. That re­ally hit me like a tonne of bricks,’’ he said.

The baby Kee­lan adopted is now 12 years old and at­tends a Napier in­ter­me­di­ate, while his two younger brothers at­tend a local pri­mary school. ‘‘I adopted him and brought him up. Him and his two brothers’’.

Kee­lan said he had 12 chil­dren to var­i­ous moth­ers. Sev­eral were adults. The youngest was a daugh­ter aged 18 months.

Kee­lan re­turned to Napier about five years ago be­cause most of his chil­dren lived there. He had spent 11-and-a-half years in Welling­ton be­fore head­ing north.

He said he re­ceived a ben­e­fit but it was not enough and that was why he had taken to beg­ging. He es­ti­mated he had been beg­ging for two years.

‘‘It’s bet­ter than rip­ping peo­ple off and get­ting into trou­ble. The coun­cil says we can’t, but we don’t be­lieve that. It’s a hu­man rights is­sue. That’s why we’ve got a lawyer act­ing for us,’’ he said.

‘‘Beg­ging has been around since the start of time and is one of the old­est arts in the world. Beg­ging and pros­ti­tu­tion,’’ he said.

He said he was ‘‘out of that deep dark hole now’’ and was happy with his life.

Kee­lan said there were fac­tions among the Napier beg­gars. The ‘‘other’’ fac­tion was the one caus­ing all the trou­ble by be­ing ag­gres­sive and defe­cat­ing in pub­lic ar­eas, while he and two oth­ers were pas­sive and sat with their signs, he said.

‘‘Those oth­ers make us look bad. They make it harder for us. We three stick to­gether and put to­gether any money we get to buy kai,’’ he said.

Kee­lan and two other Napier beg­gars, Turei Cooper and Myles He­mopo have pleaded not guilty to charges of breach­ing a coun­cil by­law that for­bids them from so­lic­it­ing for money with­out per­mis­sion.

Cooper and Kee­lan will have their case heard in a judge-alone trial in Au­gust. He­mopo will be tried on the same day.

Pub­lic De­fence Ser­vice lawyer for Cooper and Kee­lan, Alan Cressey, said the na­ture of the chal­lenge was ‘‘of ut­most pub­lic in­ter­est’’ and in­volved fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights so should be heard by a judge.

In a mem­o­ran­dum to the Napier District Court, Cooper and Kee­lan’s lawyer, Alan Cressey said the men will seek to chal­lenge the va­lid­ity of Napier’s by­law ‘‘in­so­far as it ap­plies to beg­ging’’.

‘‘It will be sub­mit­ted, as it al­ready has in over­seas ju­ris­dic­tions, that to deny a per­son the right to ask oth­ers for help is the most fun­da­men­tal breach of free­dom of ex­pres­sion pos­si­ble,’’ he said.

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