Firstly, Kia ora brother, how are you doing?
I’m doing good my bro, keeping to myself as always.
What’s your name?
My name is Morton, see I’m part English you know. (A grin follows) My family has some wild history over there.
How old are you?
I’m 53 now, brother.
I have a couple of questions, how long have you been on the street?
I’ve been out here on and off since the 70’s. I’ve been all over, from Blenheim all the way to Auckland but I have spent most of my time on these streets. Auckland was a concrete jungle to me, I barely lasted a week up there. I’m from the south mostly, but I got people all over.
How do you survive out here?
People look after us. Every day I do some hustle, people mostly want to help. I think all of us out here tend to help each other, though there are always the younger ones causing trouble and making it harder for us. To be honest with you I got lucky, I’m now in emergency housing but I still spend my days out here keeping to myself. It’s getting worse out here, they’re causing so much trouble.
What led you to live this lifestyle here in Wellington?
I had a rough upbringing, I had it real rough. I needed to escape home. Get out of there. For the most part I have been on my own since I was 6 years old. I’m the type of person that keeps to himself, I never really liked being around too many people. I found out my real mother had passed away, but I had to find that out on the street.
What is the hardest thing about being out here every day on the streets?
You know… It’s cold. It gets into your bones, it’s corrosive, especially in the ankles. On the concrete all day. I need to get up and retire.
Is there a way out for you? Have you ever wanted to do something else with your life?
Uh yeah… for sure. My family has some property in Australia. My grandfather who was a medic and died in world war 2 left us a house. I want to retire, round up some of the boys and move. I’d like to get them off the street. It’s only going to get worse out here. There’s trouble coming.
Te Aro Park, commonly referred to as Pigeon Park, is synonymous with daytime drinking, homeless with police driving by and the daily onlooker passing with a warm flat white. I stumbled across Wayne. A discerning man, I think he was as cautious about talking to me as I was approaching him.
Firstly, how long have you boys been out here?
Far out. Most of my life just about.
How have times changed what it’s like out here?
It’s changed big time.
Has it got easier or harder for you?
What out here? Sometimes it can get rough here and there.
What’s your name?
My name is Wayne.
What would you say is the hardest part about the street, is there a lot of trouble?
Nay you get no trouble. Only guys who want to make trouble.
Not the police?
Nah, the police don’t really do much.
Do you get much assistance?
I get pretty much everything, I get free Chinese, I get free Greek food, I get bacon and eggs.
So the community is quite supportive?
Not really, not if you’re a local.
How old are you?
And you have been out here most of your life?
Yeah and in and out of jail. I haven’t moved around though, I stick to Wellington’s streets.
What’s the hardest part?
Just surviving, dealing with gangs and police. The police have been beating us up since we were young. They never used to arrest us, they would just beat us with their batons. Nothing has changed, nothing has changed at all. I don’t put up with their shit.
What’s your way out? Have you wanted to lead a different life?
Yeah yeah, I’m working too now… I’m a cleaner and stuff. I’m up at 3am in the morning. I normally got a place in Newton, I got my sleeping bag in here, the cops don’t bother me cause I have a somewhat celebrity appeal. (Laughs it off.)
I have noticed the people we have spoken to on the street keep to themselves, is it lonely out here?
The new ones keep to a group, the Islanders keep to group but the Māori, they keep to their own. That’s how it should be. You have to keep cool, calm and collected. If you’re not, you won’t make it. It’s a straight rule of the street. You know, that’s one rule you got to have. If you don’t you’re gonna get picked on, or at least get one hell of a beating. Always be yourself. I’ve told you the truth about the street, but not the whole truth.
Wellington in some ways is a small village. People fill the streets every morning looking down to the same bodies that shift places throughout the day. The more time we spend talking to people living on the street, the more it becomes apparent that it’s a tight-knit community, and like all communities there are unspoken rules and lines that shouldn’t be crossed. I’m reminded that respect goes a long way, and one’s life circumstances do not define one’s character. For some it is a solitary existence, but for many, a lifestyle they preferred to the one they had before.
I would love to know your story.
How long have you got?
Kia ora brother. What was your longest stint, when you were homeless?
I’d say 2 years or so.
Have you spent most of your time here in Wellington? Were you raised here?
Nah, I was raised in the UK. We immigrated here in the 80’s.
Have you always been on the streets?
What led you here?
I got put in a psychiatric ward and went downhill. I did. I heard voices in my head from an early age.
What’s the hardest part about Wellington streets?
Ahh, getting some change, getting a bit of food you know. It’s not as rough as other places, I reckon London would be rougher. It’s just cold out here, it’s in your bones.
How did you escape homelessness?
I got a place down there. A local spot at downtown city mission.
Is the community good out here?
Yeah yeah, it’s not bad. There’s no trouble, I’m not bothered by anyone.