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.