Inside the homeless shelter. PHOTO/FILE
A Masterton day shelter is providing a brief respite for the homeless community with hot meals, showers, laundry facilities, and sometimes just a quiet place to sleep.
Tom Gibson is one of the shelter’s five committee members.
“There was just an awareness of the homeless people who were seeking help,” he said.
“The shelter here was the first response to that.”
The shelter has been running for about 18 months out of an unused building belonging to St Matthew’s Anglican Church on Church St.
Those living on the street could visit the shelter on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1pm to 4pm.
“We provide hot meals,” Gibson said.
“We’ve got a decent washing machine so they can wash their clothes.
“There’s a few comfy old couches and a TV and a fireplace.
“Sometimes they chat, sometimes they play games, they chill out. Sometimes people just come in and sleep for three hours. Really it’s just a supportive place that they can come, where they can be warm and fed.”
While a quiet day might bring up to eight people to the shelter, a busy day could have 15 to 20 people seeking support.
Numbers varied depending on the weather, how close it was to the benefit payday, and how many transient homeless people were in town, Gibson said.
“When you do the graph, the numbers are increasing all the time,” he said.
“To get more than seven or eight in the beginning was very unusual. Now that’s a quiet day.”
Last week, one of the volunteers gave a man a haircut.
“If it’s 20 or 30 bucks at a barber, then that’s disposable money that these guys can’t afford.”
There were about 25 volunteers on rotation.
Gibson invited those who were interested to visit the shelter and say hello.
“A lot of people drop by and just leave a plate of muffins or a cake, and that always goes down well.”
There were different categories of homelessness, he said. He thought there were anywhere from 10 to 20 people in Masterton who were “living rough on the streets” on and off.
However, having a home was not “just having a roof over your head every night”, he said.
“The people living in the street, they’re the tip of the iceberg of all the people who do not have a recognised home place.”
The unseen homeless included those who slept in cars and sheds, on other people’s decks, couches, and garages, and even those who lived in an overcrowded house, he said.
“This group are people who are living in such a way that gives them no security.”
Most of the people living on the streets were men, he said.
“I guess the state takes care of women and children better, and that’s great and appropriate,” Gibson said.
“But the rest, many are male … they’re the ones who are left over.”
Being homeless could damage a person’s physical and mental health, he said. It was often associated in some way with various addictions.
“People who might have been in long term care 30 years ago but are now living on the streets.”
Gibson said the cost and availability of housing and the increased cost of living, were contributing to the numbers of homeless people.
“Even for people who are working, there’s this whole concept now of the working poor,” he said.
“There’s a lack of social housing in many areas of New Zealand.
“But the need is increasing as well.”
Responses to homelessness varied a lot, Gibson said, and sometimes those experiencing homelessness were blamed for their situation.
“Homelessness is a problem for all communities, and it’s a problem in our community … I don’t think it’s terribly well understood.”