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


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.

Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

Disposable Syringes and Drug Addiction

This article was originally published on the SciBlogs network on 16/6/2017. It is reproduced here with permission. 

The nurse steadied my arm as she gently positioned the syringe barrel in place. “You can look away if you need to,” she said, “it will soon be over.” I squirmed in my seat, but kept my eyes fixed on the needle as it gently slid beneath my skin. I was six years old, and photographs of children suffering from measles, mumps and rubella kept me awake at night. I would toss and turn, imagining that every tickle from my flannelette sheets was the first bump of an angry measles rash. This cold, silver needle gliding into my vein represented freedom from this anxiety. It stung, and it made me feel queasy, but any childhood fear of contracting some horrifically virulent disease was alleviated.

Colin Murdoch

Disposable syringes made of plastic are commonplace today. We don’t blink twice upon seeing a hollow needle made of metal, a barrel and a plunger made of plastic. Indeed, sixteen billion of them are used the world over every year. However, it has been only 55 years since the plastic syringe was invented, replacing the glass and metal syringes that had been used since the 17th century. The plastic disposable syringe was invented by a New Zealander, the pharmacist and veterinarian Colin Albert Murdoch. Born in Christchurch on the 6th of February, 1929, the young Murdoch was a precocious and intelligent child. At the age of ten, instead of playing with mud pies, he was already mixing nitrates with sulphuric acid to make gunpowder, building himself a firearm with a wick and a small asbestos-filled hammer. Despite suffering from dyslexia, Murdoch had an avid interest in chemistry and began studying at the College of Pharmacy in Wellington. At the age of 25, he opened a pharmacy in Timaru.

Murdoch was a remarkably compassionate and thoughtful man. At the age of 13, he saved a man from drowning in the New Brighton estuary and was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal. Murdoch’s empathy extended not only to humans, but also animals. Later in his life, Murdoch studied veterinary medicine and turned his hand at treating animals and livestock. He was well aware of the risks in reusing syringes; the glass syringes in use at the time were designed for multiple use and were sterilised each time. Infection caused by the transmission of dangerous pathogens from animal to animal or person to person still occurred, despite careful sterilisation practices. This was because crystalline antibiotic deposits on the inside walls of the syringes had made bacteria resistant. Murdoch thus set out to design the disposable hypodermic syringe, a plastic version of its glass predecessors.  According to legend, the eureka moment hit Murdoch as he was playing with his fountain pen. Perhaps all those kids playing with their fidget spinners are onto something.

Murdoch immediately presented his design to the New Zealand Department of Health, but his idea was dismissed as being too “abstruse” and “futuristic”. Development of the syringe was delayed for several years due to a lack of funding and support. Thankfully, Murdoch’s design was finally implemented, and became incredibly successful. As articulated in the book Kiwi Ingenuity – A Book of New Zealand Ideas and Inventions, published in 1993, “It is impossible to comprehend the catastrophic consequences of this situation if such practices were still occurring today. Diseases of such ultimate incurability and virulence as the HIV and AIDS virus, hepatitis A, B, C and most recently a new D form… and TB to name just a few. Instead of now having to care for, and contain, the several million infected people throughout the world who have AIDS, the numbers could well be 30 or 40 percent of the entire population.”

Colin Murdoch was a prolific inventor and went on to design many different variations of the disposable syringe, such as prepared ampoule-type moulded plastic syringe darts, disposable automatic vaccinator syringes, disposable sterile pre-filled hypodermic syringes, sterile self-filling syringes for blood samples, variable dose vaccinator syringes and wet and dry disposable syringes. Despite owning the patents to over 40 inventions, Murdoch did not profit greatly from his designs. In 1995, he told the Timaru Herald, “Patents give you the right to sue, they don’t give you the money to sue. It just costs too much.”

Clean Needle Exchanges

As well as facilitating countless vaccinations and saving the lives of diabetics the world over, the disposable syringe has also revolutionised the lives of people with drug addictions. The value of clean needle exchanges has been proven time and time again. A comprehensive 2004 study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found a “compelling case that NSPs substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among IDUs and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” At these clean needle exchanges, injecting drugs users may obtain hypodermic needles at little or no cost.

Based on the philosophy of harm reduction that attempts to reduce the risk factors for diseases such as HIV/AIDs, clean needle exchanges offer equipment free of charge, and often require service users to return used syringes to receive an equal number of new syringes. These exchanges and the disposable, single-use needles they offer, decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis without creating new drug users. Moreover, the vast majority of clean needle exchanges aren’t just clean, clinical offices where drug users can shuffle in to pick up equipment. Instead, these programs host support clubs, HIV and STI testing, health and counselling service referrals, the provision of up-to-date information about safe injecting practices, and access to contraception and sexual health service. They can also serve as safe spaces for individuals to learn about their rights and recover their dignity.


“Empowering Young People for Peace and Fulfilment of Humankind’s Potential.”  
Today, let’s talk about AIESEC. I’ve always been intrigued about what AIESEC stands for. AIESEC was originally a French acronym for Association internationale des étudiants en sciences économiques et commerciales (International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Science).
Now we’ve got that sorted, let’s talk about what AIESEC is all about! AIESEC is certainly an admirable organisation, being the largest youth-run organisation in the world. It’s an international non-governmental not-for-profit organisation that provides young people with leadership development and cross-cultural global internship and volunteer exchange experiences across the globe, with a focus to empower young people so they can make a positive impact on society. I was fortunate enough to have a good chat with Fraser MacLeod, the local committee president about AIESEC in the local community.

Could you tell me a little about what AIESEC Otago does in the local community? 

AIESEC is an international youth leadership movement, we provide young people in Dunedin with access to an international network so they can gain experience to improve their leadership qualities through cross-cultural exchanges, those being professional internships and the volunteer projects with NGOs around the world that are partnered with us. Hopefully in the future we can find partners in Dunedin to help create those exchange opportunities here for young people from around the world to participate in as well. 

So, in your opinion , what needs to change in Dunedin?

I’d say the mindset of people in Dunedin, and really NZ in general. We should all feel like we have a responsibility and the ability to change the world for the better: recognising our privilege and how we can use it to help others. We have a long history in NZ of being trendsetters, whether it was in the form of women’s suffrage or anti-nuclear activism, we want to make sure NZers remain leaders on the world stage!

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

Personally, when I signed up to go on exchange with AIESEC I was just looking for a cheap travel option, but after I worked as an assistant for teachers in Taiwan, I actually started to realise how much I cared about helping others, how much of an impact I could make, and how much people around the world actually have in common with one another. The boost in my confidence, in my desire to change the world and in my desire to help develop others motivated me to join AIESEC Otago after my exchange so I could help other people have the same experience.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 8.32.29 PM

What keeps you motivated?

What always motivates me is the sense of responsibility I feel towards other people. For example, the volunteering I do for AIESEC is driven by my sense of responsibility in helping engage young New Zealanders with the world and finding their passions.

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

How much potential people have! I’ve seen a lot of people who are seemingly average prove that actually they can do some pretty amazing things, some of the volunteers from AIESEC Otago we had, despite being very shy and feeling very inexperienced, really impressed me by going out to some of the biggest companies around the city to see if they would be interested in helping us create exchange opportunities in Dunedin and all of them remained really calm and were great at their job!

How can interested students help out?

Come find us at clubs day next semester when we’ll be looking for new volunteers to join us, or if they’re interested in our exchange programs just flick us a message on Facebook!

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

If it’s a living person, I’d pick Stephen Fry. I’m a big fan of his comedy and his documentaries, I can tell he’d be an extremely interesting person to have a conversation with.

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

I feel like my greatest accomplishment was coming out of my shell when I came to uni. I was a really shy and anxious kid in high school, so I’m really proud of myself for becoming who I am today.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

A perfect day for me is a sunny day outdoors, going to visit some beautiful spots out in nature, especially the beach!

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

My education, it’s given me so many opportunities that I have no idea what my life would be like if I hadn’t had access to it.

Thank you so much Fraser! It was wonderful chatting to you.


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The Dunedin Sleep Out 2016!

The Dunedin Sleep Out 2016!


Last Friday, the UniCrew team helped organise a fantastic event: The Dunedin Sleep Out 2016!

The event is a fundraiser for the Dunedin Night Shelter, a service providing emergency housing to those in need.

Sleeping out in the Octagon in the middle of a Dunedin Winter may seem like a health and safety risk, but if anything, sub-zero temperatures help make this event all the more poignant.

We are showing solidarity with those who experience homelessness, and making this often invisible issue more visible by putting it right in the middle of town!

Just as it was last year, the Sleep Out was a great success!

We were so happy to have the team from TV3 Story there to show off our event on LIVE national tv!!

IMG_3572.JPGLive from the Sleep Out: TV3 Story!

The event had a fantastic media response this year, with NewsHub, The ODT, ScoopYahoo NZ  and Dunedin TV all picking up the event this year, in addition to The Star community newspaper putting us on their front page!!
Thanks for helping us raise awareness of this crucial issue!

The event opened with speeches from both Dunedin North MP David Clark, and Dunedin South MP Clare Curran. The wonderful chairman of the Night Shelter Trust Dave Brown also addressed the crowd, thanking the students and organising team for their efforts (we love you too Dave!).

IMG_3581Dave Brown, Chairman of the Night Shelter Trust

The event was well attended this year, and featured a huge number of talented performers to keep the crowd entertained. A huge thank you to all of the following:

Julion Wright
The Acoustic Paintings
Otago Dance Association
Zumba with Tammy
Abby Wolfe
James Dignan – music, poetry, art
Simon Kingsley-Holmes
Annie Hayes
Wyeth Chalmers
Andrew Mekhail

IMG_3585.JPGOtago Dance crew lighting up the Octagon stage

This event also would not happen without the support of a HUGE number of businesses, sponsors, community groups and just general good sorts, so thank you all!

Plus I have one more thank you: The wonderful team at UniCrew for all their efforts putting this event together!

Thanks crew.png

Not all of you are pictured here so I’m going to pick on you all:

Sze-En + Sarah + Dave: For their overall amazingness and organisation of the chaos!
Briar: For the amazing soup and team organisation!
Kelsey: For the awesome health and safety plan and general excellence!
Fred: For the musician cajoling and technical/audio genius!
Lucy/Craig: For the stunning photos/video and your overall help!
Abigail: For the fundraising brilliance, and your constant good vibes!
Damon: For the man-in-a-box and your cardboard-wall skills!
Geena: For your marketing brain and helpful assistance!
Susie: For your fizzing attitude and hype skills!
Angus: For the heavy lifting and helpfulness!
Finn/Anastasia/Alyson: For the injection of energy and helping hands!

+ Our security peeps: Timothy and Luke = Legends!

The people behind this Sleep Out worked so so hard to bring this event to life! They all deserve some thank yous, so give them a mental round of applause!

Here are some more images of the amazing night, and thank you to all our participants!!

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UniCrew Visits: The United Nations

UniCrew Visits: The United Nations

Welcome back to the latest instalment of the UniCrew Visits, where we tell the stories of cool people going to cool places.

This week I sat down with Briar from the UniCrew Exec to chat about her experience at the Harvard National Model United Nations 2016 and discuss the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and how they relate to UniCrew!

Jessie: Hello, hello, this is a bit weird eh.

Briar: Just a bit (laughs).

J: We pretty much just had this conversation and now we are going through it all again cause I didn’t record it (fail).
Anyways, tell me a little bit about the trip.

B: Basically, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Harvard Model UN in late January, early February. This is a conference with loads of students from all around the world coming together to learn more about the United Nations, and represent a given country as part of the model UN. The NZ delegates represented Norway, so we got to attend model committee meetings for the committees which Norway is actually on.

J: You mentioned that you got to meet Helen Clark?

B: We got to ask her heaps about her role as head of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), and she is just an amazing person to talk to in terms of the breadth of her knowledge.

J: She has an amazing background at this point eh?

B: Definitely, and it shows in the way she can approach situations, she is so pragmatic and neutral with her response to different issues. Its very inspiring.

J: So are you Team Helen all the way then? (Helen Clark is currently in the running to become the United Nations Secretary General)

B: Oh yeah, #helenforUNSG!

J: #helen4life (laughs).
So that was one of the highlights, you also mentioned that you got to do a lot of travelling around the United States during this trip, can you tell us a bit about that?

B: We started in San Francisco, and we biked to the Golden Gate Bridge, went to China Town. We walked the United Nations walkway, which is to signify where the United Nations Charter was signed. On the ground as you walk along is the pre-amble to the first Charter of the United Nations, so our group all walked along in the pouring rain, reading the ground like the political nerds that we are.

We then went to Washington DC, which is essentially the political capital of the United States. We went to Capitol Hill, got to see the Supreme Court, which as a law student was pretty cool. I wished we could have seen the notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the few female Supreme Court Justices). 


J: It all sounds amazing, so jelly.

B: OH, we went to the White House as well-

J: I can’t believe you forgot a trip to the White House, just casually

B: Actually, while we were there, the Secret Service kind of came out of nowhere and ushered us all back.

J: Ooooo..

B: We figured out that the Columbian Ambassador was leaving, so they were letting him leave. But I loved how there was a Secret Service guy on a bicycle.

J: That’s great HA,

B: He would kind of just pull up, oh and there was also a squirrel.

J: (Laughing) So the key part of the White House, Secret Service guy on a bike, and SQUIRRELS.

B: (Also laughing) Pretty much yep. Anyways from Washington we were onto Boston, where the actual conference was being held. Representing Norway, we had prepared to speak at our committee on two different topics, but only one would be selected, which was the rights of female prisoners.


The next four days were just more committee meetings, following that was another two days where we needed to go out to another area, and it was a -18 degree snow day. I was in open toed heels –

J: NO, oh dear,

B: Yeah, oops. We did also visit Harvard whilst there, which was awesome, and ate in the law school cafeteria, which again was awesome for me as a law student.

J: Setting your sights, love it!

B: From Boston, we went to New York –

J: (fake cries) so jealous!

B: So cool, jamming to Empire State of Mind, New York New York on the train there. Highlights were of course visiting the UN Headquarters, going to see 2 Broadway Shows, went to an NBA game. We spent the longest in New York, and it wasn’t nearly long enough.

J: Urgh, I am DYING to go there –

B: Everyone should go there, I can’t wait to go back eventually.


So then we went onto Hawaii, and just relaxed for the end of our trip!

J: Nice, urgh take me with you.

But anyways, so the main reason we are talking about this trip, is because at UniCrew we are trying to incorporate the United Nations Global Goals into a lot of what we do. So can you tell us a little bit about those?

B: So the Global Goals for Sustainable Development replace the Millennium Development Goals which ended in 2015.

The Global Goals expand and build on the work of those original goals. The way they are laid out (as 17 goals relating to different areas of sustainable development) makes it easy for people to identify goals and work towards them.


So at UniCrew, we are trying to identify what different goals relate to different volunteering opportunities, so like for example if someone is trying to end poverty, we can say hey-

J: Like here’s this organisation which is also passionate about ending poverty, and they have this role that would be great for you.

B: Exactly. One of the goals that I really like –

J: That was my next question, you are one step ahead of me haha,

B: Ha, I like them all, but one in particular is goal #11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.

J: Why do you identify with that goal then?

B: I really like the idea that the international community has recognised the importance of the community unit. And it feeds off a lot of the other goals as well –

J: Right, cause some are quite specific, and others are more broad.

B: Exactly, you’ve got things like zero hunger for example,

J: Which encompasses a lot of things,

B: And I like the idea of working with smaller units like a community, to achieve some of the bigger goals like that.

J: Awesome.


The Global Goals are becoming a big part of our work at UniCrew. We are excited to keep using the #globalgoals to make volunteering opportunities meaningful and accessible for everyone!

Right now you can apply for funding as part of Operation Global Goals, to get your community project funded! If you are a student club or group what are you waiting for? Apply here!



UniCrew Visits: Shop on Carroll

UniCrew Visits: Shop on Carroll

Welcome to our shiny new series, UniCrew Visits. We are walking the talk by visiting our favourite community organisation, and volunteering of course!

Last Saturday a team of us were delighted to visit Shop on Carroll, and the attached opshop warehouse, which caters for other opshops all around the city, to work our muscles and shift some stock for them. Thank you so much to Fiona and her team for having us!

We had enough energy left after to take some silly pictures.


Once we were done helping out, we all had so much fun exploring and discovering hidden treasures.

I found these old souls, no doubt looking for a new home.


We also found some hilarious costume items, which we used to accessorise appropriately.


I found a beautiful box of tiny framed pictures.


And of course we all hunted through the racks for an opshop bargain.


Sze-En our volunteer coordinator, even found time to shop for her upcoming nuptials.


Do you want to be a part of the next UniCrew Visits? Get in touch with us on Facebook!