Speaker by Various Artists


Her outdoors

by Six

Other than it being night, I have no other reference to day, week or month.

It is either mid evening or mid week, autumn or spring, judging by the light or lack thereof, the scant activity on the avenue and a balmy breeze from the west. 

It could even be early dawn.

And by dawn I mean dusk.

Days melt into weeks, weeks to months, months to a lifetime. Day fades to night, night breaks into daylight and it all rolls over again and again. It is all the same, merely the players that change.

Base camp, outside Merge Cafe on Karangahape Rd, had to be abandoned due to wet weather. It leaks like an old man under the awning outside said stoop.

It is drier and better sheltered outside the dispensary further east. 

It is unfortunately a pedestrian highway which attracts anyone and everyone who wants to skulk, stagger or saunter.

Next door are two kebab stores, a bottle shop, a convenience store and twin nightclubs.

The whole area has more cameras than the Playboy Mansion.

It is a hotbed of hookers, drunks, deviants and the despicable.

Police patrols and private security guards secure the streets and give me some degree of safety.

My only real problem is privacy.

Because I'm sleeping in plain view, I can't discriminate.

Anyone and everyone joins me on the green nylon otherwise known as home. 

For better or worse, I buy most of my kit from the Army Surplus store. Ex-army gear is usually of a high quality, affordable and olive.

I've had a NZ flag sewn onto my bivvy bag, an outer weather-resistant nylon skin.

Hopefully this will stop drunks urinating on me.

Sometimes I think of myself as an urban commando.

I pack, repack, remove and refine.

All day, every day.

I'm wearing black Levi stovepipes, cherry red 18-hole Doc Martens and a light singlet.

It is a constant question: 'Do I need this?'

I weigh 80kg and 5kg of that is hair, pack weighs about 35kg (give or take) and guitar and amp tip the scales at around 18kg.

Anything not used daily is discarded.

I am constantly arguing with myself about the guitar. But I figure it is only a matter of time before it is stolen so I might as well enjoy it.

I'm a firm believer that music creates positive vibrations. 

Sometimes when you are homeless the hardest thing is to be positive. Music helps.

The only clothes I carry are the ones currently worn. Underwear is a luxury, and not part of the commando couture. It is a constant war against weight.

Being unable to secure personal belongings means you lose stuff.

You have to either stash your belongings and risk their removal, or carry your load like a turtle or snail.

The number of times I have seen grown men, and women in tears after losing their loot. Hard men and hardened wenches, men who've been working this rodeo some time, in complete despair.  Women who wield weight in the underworld, stripped of whatever comforts can be carried.

When you don't have a lot, it is easy to lose the lot.

Sometimes it is other street people raiding another's plot or Council contractors clearing out anything deemed undesirable. Opportunist thieves, scumbags, scags and slags scalping the bald. 

Why be homeless? 

Accommodation options for the Auckland discarded, disenfranchised and disheartened are limited and secure locker space prohibitively expensive, unavailable or untenable.  

Not many, if any, leaseholders want to take on an unemployed, dysfunctional or otherwise undesirable flatmate.

Numerous street people have mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions, poor literacy and a lack of basic social skills.

Many others don't.

Some streeties are postgraduate students, former professionals, academics, artists and idealists.

One K' Road character has more than half a million dollars in the bank. Yet living with terminal illness, he chooses to sleep rough so as not to waste money on rent, and experience as much as life has to offer, all day, everyday.

If homelessness is a choice, it is a choice of few options.  

According to the Lifewise and Auckland City Mission report on homelessness 2015, almost 400 people are sleeping rough within a five 5km radius of Sky City.  A higher density of doorway dwellers than New York or London.

The reality for many low and no income earners is a room the size of a hen house for up to 90 per cent of your benefit or daily hustle.

An accomplished panhandler can hustle more than $400 a day. Most probably make enough for a few drinks and poison of preference.

Most, if not all, fundraising will be spent on illicit activities and dodgy deals.

Personal experience, tales from the trenches and the tell-tale scabs of the regular suspects tell me the average central city hotel, hostel or boarding house will offer you the company of pedophiles, junkies and drunks, hookers, lice, bed bugs and all manner of objectionable activity. 

Once you have enjoyed the comforts of the average boarding home, hostel or hotel, the asphalt starts to appeal.

Great outdoor-outdoor flow. Free wifi (if you can convince the kebab store to give you the password), air conditioning, free sky . . .

The trick is to have an address to give to WINZ, so you can still get an accommodation allowance.

Sleeping rough does not preclude you from receiving a benefit.

A single person living hard is entitled to around $170 per week.

An accommodation allowance can bump that up to more than $300.

You need someone who is not on a benefit to say you are living with them. Otherwise cross referencing will result in a benefit adjustment for all parties concerned.

But sleeping in public view comes with pitfalls and problems.

You have no privacy and are unable to evict uninvited guests.

I've learned to simply snuggle in my sleeping sacks when company becomes cumbersome. I just pull the hood over my head and snooze, until the wearisome wander off. 

J is my latest fan.

And by fan I mean stalker.

She is clearly drunk, and more than likely on amphetamines.

“Why do you hate me, Six?” she whines.

“I don't hate you. I think of you as little more than a drug-fucked sex worker with nothing better to do than pester me. Some fellow street character I must endure to remain secure,” I mumble through the comfort of my comforter.

“What the fuck.”

“Fuck off J. I just wanna sleep,” I use my miffed tone.

“Fuck you,” says J, cuddling up next to me and borrowing my rain-poncho for shelter.

The warmth of her body is a welcome reprieve from the cold concrete. She smells nice. She finally stops chatting.

I like J when she crashes. She is much easier to ignore when she stops talking. I worry about her. The track marks on her arms paint an ugly picture. 

I wake with a jolt.

Someone is tapping me.

I open my cover and a drunk is waving a kebab in my face.

 “Cha bra, hunguss?” Or something.

 I think he is giving me a kebab and I accept with grace.

To decline an offer of kindness is to decline the giver the gift of giving.

I was once too proud to accept a stranger's charity. But then I realised I was being rude.

Some people are very sympathetic to the plight of fellow man, many are blind, and a minority despise you.

Some people offer cash, a fellow street swab usually swings by with drinks or narcotics, and a proportion of public are very generous.

Not everyone is happy to ignore or indulge and prefer to antagonise. 

“Get a job,” spits a young adult pedestrian.

“Thanks man. Great idea. I so wish I'd thought of that. Tell ya what, you tell me where they are handing out the jobs to middle-aged, over-qualified transgender women and I'll be first in line. When do the doors open?,” I ask with sincere interest. 

“You could be sweeping the footpath now,” volunteers Don Johnson look-a-like.”

“That is Roger's job. He works all through the night and drops me off all the drugs he finds on his route. Then I sell them to the school kids on their way to college in the morning,” I explain.

“Suck this faggot,” says 1980s pastel pink sportscoat with rolled-up sleeves pointing at his crutch.

“OK”, says I. “Drop ya daks. I told you I was looking for work.”

After an evening of insults, assaults and assailants, I wake up with the first of the commuter buses.

A passerby hands me a hot coffee.

“Thanks man. Have a great day,” I yell at his diminishing figure.

Roger the cleaner laughs when I ask him where my drugs are. He does however give me a few cigarettes to kickstart the day.

“I telled you”, says Roger. “What are drugs? What you want that for? I don't know. I don't think I ever seen anything like that.”

“Come for a coffee later,” I say.

“I will be there for lunch,” says Roger.

“Bring me any drugs you find. Or gold.

“Or anything shiny,” I offer as an afterthought. 

By 9am, I'm serving breakfast at Merge Cafe, a not-for-profit restaurant on Karangahape Rd providing breakfast from as little as $1 for porridge or cereal and toast, eggs with beans and snarler for not much more and hot lunches from $4.

Since failing to find work after graduating with a pg dip in comms studies, I offered my time to Lifewise. I thought maybe I could teach literacy skills.

A colleague from Fairfax, comes in to give me back my portfolio.

“Hey L. Eggs on toast?” I ask with a smile.

“No, not this morning Six. I just called by to return your portfolio. I'm sorry, Six. I really went to bat for you but the reality is it is just a very competitive industry. And I hate to say it but you don't fit the profile. You're not female, not under 25 and still living with your parents at home in Remuera. That's the truth of the industry unfortunately,” says L.

I am female.


Six blogs periodically, and mostly truthfully, at Tranzspotting.

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