Thoughts from a Sleepless Sleepout

Thoughts from a Sleepless Sleepout

Last Friday night I participated in the third annual Dunedin Sleepout. The Sleepout raises money for the Dunedin Night Shelter and raises awareness of homelessness in our southern city. Despite the stories from others and my own knowledge of Dunedin and it’s frosty winters, nothing really prepared me for my night in the Octy.

Firstly, Dunedin is cold. Like, really cold. We braved one of the clearest, coldest nights of the year, where the temperature definitely dropped uncomfortably into the negatives. I’m a relatively tough Southern lass, but I have a fairly low tolerance for freezing my butt off. Kitted out in my expensive hiking thermals, fleeces and woolly socks, I hunkered down in an oversize windproof jacket and hoped for the best. Once the dance parties came to a close at 1am, I quickly realised that the night was only going to get colder. We had joked about going to the bars to keep warm, and I started to think that perhaps Suburbia would be my saviour after all.  

Eventually I succumbed to adding a third layer of pants and a sixth top layer, and climbed into my extra dense sleeping bag. Around 4am, I wondered if the night was ever going to end as I warmed my hands on the coffee urn, hoping that the heat would soak through my gloves and into my bones. My heart hurt for those who do this night in and night out, with no real end in sight. As I wondered if I would ever feel warmth again, I considered the grim prospect of this being my only option. A cold, slightly damp student flat is still better than nowhere to go at the end of the day.

Secondly, is it trivialising homelessness to have an event where we sleep outside for one night and then proceed to return to our homes and regular lives? Can we really encapsulate the experience of being homeless with a 12 hour stint in the Octagon, with the knowledge that we only need to do it once? We had a plethora of cardboard and tarps to create shelters, generously donated and supplied by sponsors. There was no shortage of soup, coffee, hot chocolate or pizza. OUSA came through for the teams with hot water bottles that were constantly refilled from urns of hot water. I was surrounded by friends and fun activities that made the first several hours pass in what seemed like mere minutes. In many ways, we didn’t emulate the homeless experience at all. The only aspect that we really captured was being outside on a freezing night in Dunedin city.

However, the Sleepout did start conversations. I wasn’t the only person realising that sleeping outside is a barely sustainable situation. Homeless people approached our soup table and asked if they might have some soup, and it was the conversations had over soup that really underscored why we were doing this. Some felt failed by a system that couldn’t serve them. Others were thankful that someone with a voice, was saying something. Others just wanted a conversation and some soup. I am grateful for being able to share in people’s stories, and to be in a position where I have a voice that can fight for others who are not heard.

Finally, as the sun rose and the ice began to glisten on the road, the 2017 Sleepout drew to a close. Cardboard was packed away and students shuffled wearily back to their halls and flats. The only signs we had even been there were human shapes imprinted into the damp grass. For some, home is an undefined concept, a question mark hanging in the air daily. The homeless are those that we try not to make eye contact with as we hurriedly brush past on George St. We try to ignore what makes us uncomfortable, but that discomfort is the knowledge that the situation is wrong. At the end of the day, we are all humans. I sit now in my flat musing over the fact I can see my breath as I type. Yet someone else is probably considering where they can sleep safely tonight. Someone is spending their first night on the streets, fearing it won’t be their last. Someone is spending another night on the streets, wondering when will be their last?

If this is something that concerns you and you want to help out, get in touch with the Dunedin Night Shelter: http://www.dunedinnightshelter.co.nz/.

Humans of Unicrew: Lydia Bowers

Welcome back to Humans of Unicrew! Taking inspiration from “Humans of New York” we are trying to catch up with the wonderful people that make this volunteering world go around. One of the beautiful things about this community is that it is ordinary people doing their part to make the uni, the city and the world just a wee bit more awesome. 

Lydia is a volunteer with the language support programme at the Student Learning Development Centre. She’s been on exchange and her bright personality lends itself to working with the international community.

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Photo Essay: The Dunedin Sleep Out

Photo Essay: The Dunedin Sleep Out

Here are some gorgeous photos from the Dunedin Sleep Out. The Sleep Out happened on Friday the 28th of July. It was a bitterly cold night, but our troops braved it all in order to raise awareness about New Zealand’s rising levels of homelessness. Students and staff from the University of Dunedin came together to experience one night sleeping rough, to get a taste of life on the streets, and to raise critical funds to tackle homelessness.

To quote Volunteering Otago,

Homelessness is not as visible in Dunedin as it can be in larger cities overseas. Nonetheless, according to the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust, there are homeless people in Dunedin every night of the week. The Dunedin Night Shelter provides a vital service for our most vulnerable citizens. An increased demand on the service due to growing social problems and better coordination with organisations such as the police, community mental health teams, and Prisoners Aid means more volunteers are presently needed.

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More than 41,000 people in New Zealand have no place to call home.

Over half of New Zealand’s homeless are under 25.

One quarter are children.

You can check out the Dunedin Night Shelter here:

http://www.dunedinnightshelter.co.nz/

https://www.facebook.com/DunedinNightShelter/

 

Don’t Blame Society’s Problems on Individuals – Help The Homeless

Don’t Blame Society’s Problems on Individuals – Help The Homeless

As winter continues to hit Dunedin with everything it has, the reality of New Zealand’s housing issue is magnified. Many of us are very fortunate in that we are not constantly plagued by the same chill that others are exposed to on a daily basis, but with that position comes with an obligation: to speak out and force action for those that are.

Far too often one hears that this country is too developed and prosperous to have people living in substandard housing that makes them sick, or even without a ceiling over their head altogether. Despite this, we still have more than 41,000 people living a life on the streets, a figure that has risen 25 percent between 2006 and 2013, as the population only increased by 4.8 percent.

The correlation between homelessness and mental health disorders are stark, as is homelessness with criminality and substance abuse. These factors provide even more problems on top of the existing issues keeping these people pinned into their predicament. In fact, 50 percent of organisations or groups providing homes for homeless people also provide services that help prevent criminal offending, 42 percent for mental health problems, and 40 percent for substance abuse and addiction issues.

If what you have read hasn’t shocked you, then this might: more than half of the 41,000 homeless people are under 25 years old. People like you and me, suffering on streets up and down the bitterly cold islands we call home. It’s easy to ignore this demographic, thinking of them only as being impaired by alcoholism and drug addiction, with just a blanket and a piece of cardboard telling disinterested passers-by how needy they are. In reality, we are the ones who have failed them, and we’re continuing to seek any justification we possibly can to allow ourselves to ignore their plight by placing blame for society’s shortcomings on their individual shoulders.

By Joe Higham, co-editor of Critic, and all-round lovely guy. 

This article was originally published by Critic te Arohi. You can read the article here

The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

This post marks the first article in a series about the Dunedin Night Shelter and the struggles of the homeless. We’re in the lead-up to the Dunedin Sleep Out and it’s so important to raise awareness of this issue and to support the amazing people in our community making a difference. I was fortunate enough to interview Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust about his work with the Dunedin Night Shelter.

 

Could you tell me a little about what the Dunedin Night Shelter does in the local community?

The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust offers anybody, (men and women), emergency accommodation in Dunedin. Clients receive an evening meal, shower, laundry, bed and breakfast in the morning. We also have available staff who can assist clients in finding accommodation or sourcing the help they require. We also have transitional accommodation for selected ex-prisoners, who can stay in Phoenix Lodge for 6 months, in a controlled and supportive environment, to help them adjust to life outside of prison in a constructive way. We work with PARS (Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society).

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

I found myself so angry and upset about some things in our community that I actually choked up with sadness while singing the National Anthem at an ANZAC day service! Some of the things that upset me are the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in our economy. Some people earn an amazing amount of money, while those in important jobs (e.g. carers of the elderly) earn so much less. The economic successes in our country seem to benefit a relative few at the top. Trickle down theory does not work.

I took a funeral of a 19 year old girl recently. Both her parents worked, but her dad, thinking of the cost of a funeral said, “We exist from week to week. We do not have savings. How can we afford that?” That is life for many families.

Secondly, I have worked among the vulnerable in our community for many years. Changes in technology, economics (loss of manufacturing jobs) etc. mean that there are a lot more people unable to be employed. There are many who can never keep up with digital technology, who got left behind at school. So while there seems amazing “progress” there are those on the bottom who live with no sense of hope or purpose. Looking down the barrel of living a whole life on the benefit sucks.  

This can lead to bad life choices, addictions and sometimes mental health issues. I feel for these people, and I think their numbers may grow.  While our “progress” in technology and efficiency sounds great, it leaves a lot of people behind. I think people can survive poverty, but the lack of purpose, hope and dignity (no useful place in the community) eats at their soul. In my youth it was different in NZ for such people; there were jobs, they had work mates and something useful to do.

Thirdly, I grew up feeling good about egalitarian New Zealand, with our free education system and our public health system, but these days these benefits have been eroded. In the long run I think the changes cost, economically (we pay in other ways – e.g. mental health system cutbacks lead to justice system increases) but also in terms of human well-being. We have lost a sense of “common-wealth”.

What needs to change in Dunedin?

I would like to see more manufacturing jobs created in Dunedin so that people can find useful work. Secondly, our staff at the Night Shelter struggle to find affordable accommodation for people in Dunedin. Thirdly, unemployed people used to have in Dunedin ASCO (Advisory and Support Centre Otago). ASCO ran a day time drop-in (they cooked a cheap meal), sourced vegetables, bread and other groceries that people could buy cheaply. ASCO also offered support and ran various work projects such as pine cone collections. Its funding was cut by the government and it stopped. If I had the money, time, energy and skills I would want to start a similar thing. Dunedin needs a centre like that.

What were your expectations coming into the Dunedin Night Shelter, and how have they changed?

I was part of the exploratory group who began to explore the need in 2003. It hosted a public gathering, became a steering committee and then a Trust Board. My expectations were that I would be a useful member of the committee until the service began, and then move on. I never expected I would become chairman and be involved for this long. I was a part of the formation of Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin and that consumed my life. I guess I did not want that sort of responsibility again, but if anything it has evolved into an almost full-time commitment and consumes many hours every week.

We spend around $120,000 per year – I would never have thought it would have got to such a big budget and responsibility. I guess too I have found it more complex than I thought. We have to consider staff and client Health and Safety protocols. When do you refuse entry? How generous should you be? When does support become support for people’s addictions or bad lifestyle? My original thoughts were just have a house and a few volunteers rostered. But it is so much more complex trying to shuffle so many aspects to it.

What keeps you motivated?

I guess from my spirituality I feel a certain solidarity with those in need. The homeless are my brothers and sisters. I also see it as a way of sharing resources more evenly – resources of money, of time, of skills, education etc. Secondly – the support we have received from the community makes me feel we are not alone on this journey.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

I guess the support we have received along the journey. When we first began our street appeal people asked, “Why do we need a Night Shelter in Dunedin?” These days we are almost embarrassed by the support and generosity of people. We raised $600,000 to purchase our premises. In 2004, when we were exploring there was a building we looked at going for $600,000. We did not pursue it because we saw that as an impossible pipe dream. But we got better buildings for the same amount in 2015 through Dunedin’s generosity.

How can interested students help out?

We would be very grateful for assistance with our street appeal between 24th July and 29th. If students could give an hour to assist with that would be great.

For this and any other offers (cooking a meal to go into the freezer, giving excess bedding to give to clients etc) phone Carol Frost, our Operations Director at the Shelter on 4770546 or carolfrostpl@gmail.com.

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Image: Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust, building a garden shed with Dr Dave McMorran from the University of Otago’s Chemistry Department.

Interviewing Julie Woods, from the Blind Foundation

Interviewing Julie Woods, from the Blind Foundation

Julie Woods is a wonderful client and ambassador of the Blind Foundation. She is also an active member of the Otago community. You can find out more about her on her website. To quote her website,  

” Julie Woods is an inspirational speaker and coach; who has visited the seven Wonders of the World!  So, is it really true she threw a party when she’d been blind for 15 years and has refereed three games of nude touch rugby?” 

Could you tell me a little about what the Blind Foundation does in the local community?

The Blind Foundation provides blind people with rehabilitative services so that they can lead meaningful and productive lives. From providing talking book machines to teaching a blind person to read braille, the Foundation supports local blind people with their vision loss.  

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

Attitudes towards people who are blind and partially sighted is the biggest barrier our members face. The public believing that blind people can’t do things like boil an egg leads to discrimination and prejudice that prevents our community from accessing employment.    

What needs to change in Dunedin?

Attitudes so that blind people can be employed!

What were your expectations coming into the Blind Foundation, and how have they changed?

There’s nothing like watching blind people do the things you think they can’t to open your mind to their capabilities. I’ve watched a 98 year old learn how to use an iPad.

What keeps you motivated?

Knowing that by telling blind people’s stories we can help shift attitudes about blindness and create a truly inclusive society.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

How dedicated our staff are in believing in what blind people are capable of. I’ve never heard a rehab staff member say to a blind person  “no you can’t do that!”

How can interested students help out?

By phoning 03 466 4230 and offering to volunteer. We’re always looking for great people to help our great people!  

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

Louis Braille, the inventor of braille! I’d have to brush up on my French though!

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Travelling to 50 countries by the time I was 50!

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

Eating Ice cream, listening to ABBA and reading some braille!

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

For my optimism. It helps me face each day with hope!

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Blind Foundation

Te Tūāpapa o Te Hunga Kāpō

P: 09 355 6891

Blindfoundation.org.nz

 

Humans of Unicrew: Brianna Nally

Welcome back to Humans of Unicrew! Taking inspiration from “Humans of New York” we are trying to catch up with the wonderful people that make this volunteering world go around. One of the beautiful things about this community is that it is ordinary people doing their part to make the uni, the city and the world just a wee bit more awesome. 

This week we caught up with Brianna Nally! This cool human has volunteered in a range of roles and had some insight on her volunteering experiences for us!

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Why do you like helping others?

Everyone needs help at some time or another, and its really nice when someone is there for you when you need it, no matter what the problem is. We generally live in a society where this kind of support can always be found, but this only works if we give as well as take. If I can help anyone out, I therefore will. It makes me happy to know that someone I help today could go on and help another tomorrow, and so the trend goes on.

What has been your most rewarding volunteering experience and why? 

My most rewarding volunteering experience would be, in general, my involvement with the Chemistry Outreach group here at UO. In particular, our recent trip to Taiwan to run a workshop in a national high school chemistry camp there. It was fantastic to meet lots of new people, both students and teachers, and gain an insight into not only how students in other countries work but also how the whole event was managed differently. I feel it provided me with wider knowledge of running/organising these kind of events and more confidence for when I do that kind of thing back here in NZ.

What do you think needs to change in the University of Otago student community and why?

Like I said previously, I think us students need to realise that a happy and functioning community (university-wide or otherwise) cannot function properly on the good deeds of a few alone. Volunteer! Get involved with something new! It doesn’t have to be boring like picking up rubbish, it could be promoting your subject (like I do with chemistry), helping out the international students (eg conversational english through the SLDC, which I had a lot of fun doing!), or just proof reading a friends assignment.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you want to have dinner with and why?

Marie Curie; she’s been a great inspirational figure for me – she made amazing discoveries and dedicated her life to her scientific endeavours, despite the prejudice against women in the field at the time. I’d love to hear how she dealt with that, and what encouraged her to get into the field in the first place. And I’d want her to know how many past, present and future scientists she has or will be an idol for 🙂

Humans of Unicrew: Jo Mohan

Welcome back to Humans of Unicrew! Taking inspiration from “Humans of New York” we are trying to catch up with the wonderful people that make this volunteering world go around. One of the beautiful things about this community is that it is ordinary people doing their part to make the uni, the city and the world just a wee bit more awesome. 

Jo is a super volunteer! She is involved with the Otago International Friendship Network, Students Without Borders, Kiwihosts with Uniflats, and I’m sure she is doing lots of other wonderful things. She was awarded a NZ Youth Award earlier this year for her volunteering efforts. Here is our wee chat with this superstar!

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BusGO Dunedin

BusGO Dunedin

Recently, I had a fantastic time talking to Peter Dowden from Bus Go Dunedin.

Could you tell me a little about what the Bus Go Dunedin does in the local community?

Bus Go is short for Bus Users Support Group Otepoti-Dunedin and we aim to maximise people’s access to the bus service and to bring problems people have to the attention of decision makers.

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

Nothing gets up my nose more than hearing of people trapped in their suburb because of an accessibility or poverty issue preventing them from travelling.

What needs to change in Dunedin?

There has been so much achieved making Dunedin’s one of the most wheelchair-accessible bus fleets in the world, but the poor design of our streets let this effort down. Our city’s bus stops just do not match the quality of our buses.

What were your expectations coming into Bus Go Dunedin, and how have they changed?

I thought we needed to splurge money on the bus service, introduce free travel, double the number of buses and that sort of thing, but I have come to realise how much the system proscribed by central government squashes those sorts of visionary ideas. Now we concentrate on getting the existing budgets spent more fairly and efficiently. There is huge waste in the system, especially with empty seats being denied to passengers who can’t afford to travel.

What keeps you motivated?

I should explain that I have an abnormal, possibly unhealthy, interest in buses! A bus geek, if you like. If I wasn’t doing this I would be spending more time with another local club that restores old buses or do more work as a part-time driver for one of the local bus companies. But the “people” side of it keeps me most interested as I am not that mechanically minded compared to most bus enthusiasts.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

I came into it as a greenie thinking I needed to campaign to promote bus travel to benefit the environment, but I found advocacy for social justice was what people wanted: folk came to us for help negotiating with administrators of the bus service.

How can interested students help out?

We’re keen to support bus users who find the service difficult to use. We have a plan for “Bus Buddies” – support volunteers who help people with disabilities or communication issues to use the bus service. We have plenty of potential volunteers but we need a few people with management skills to help establish the Bus Buddies scheme. It would be a great project for students of commerce, management or social work and when they had established the service they could hand it over as a running concern.
And finally, just a few fun questions:

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

Sir Brian Souter, the Scottish bus billionaire: he’s cool in a bussy sort of way but he’s also a totally bigoted ant-gay Bible-bashing nutjob, we could have some fiery arguments. He lives in a castle, so I’d be his dinner guest.

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Ignoring my parents’ expectations and becoming a bus driver, and getting away with it.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

Well I can go a few days without buses in my other job (which is in media) but I get a bit antsy if I don’t get at least a few hours a week behind the wheel of a bus – that’s perfect week.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

When I see a bus stop that a bus can actually get into tightly alongside the kerb without hitting anything, so that passengers can easily step in or out… there are not many of those in Dunedin though.

You can get involved with Bus Go Dunedin here: https://www.facebook.com/busgodunedin/