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Auckland barrister, homeless advocate and a judge champion new night shelter for homeless

05 April 2019 - By Nick Butcher

An Auckland barrister, a homeless advocate and a District Court Judge are driving the development of a new night shelter for homeless people, due to open before the winter.

Jo Wickcliffe
Jo Wickcliffe 

Queen Street in the central city is often dotted with people begging and sleeping rough all year round. Many of them have mental health and addiction problems.

Barrister Jo Wickliffe is used to defending people who cannot do it for themselves, including homeless people, and the night shelter initiative is another strand of her advocacy work.

A trust called NEST (Night Emergency Shelter Trust) has been formed and a Board of Trustees established which includes Judge Grant Fraser and Michelle Kidd who are both advocates for the homeless.

While the Queen Street homeless are the visual part of the problem, Ms Wickliffe says there are many others who are living and sleeping in areas that many people would be less aware of.

“Often you won’t see the long-term homeless people. They’re not on Queen Street. They’re hidden in places where they can’t be easily found. Some are sleeping in bushes at Albert Park. I know of a man who sleeps in rubbish skips. I know of a pregnant woman sleeping rough and another woman with two children who was sleeping near the Auckland District Court. She had her children on mattresses with a duvet. It’s a terrible situation for anyone to be in,” she says.

Marae-style accommodation

The Trust has secured a three-storey building for the Night Shelter on Nelson Street in the central business district, and they have a project manager who’ll deal with resource consent issues and the fit-out of the premises.

The first floor will be for men and can sleep 80 people in a marae-style open plan. The second floor will be for women and will cater for 40 people, also marae style. And there’ll be security guards on duty each evening.

“The security is to ensure the safety of all who are sleeping at the shelter. They’re not safe on the street and need to feel safe at the shelter. There will also be a building manager who lives on-site,” she says.

Judge Grant Fraser
Judge Grant Fraser 

Ms Wickliffe says homeless people who want to stay at NEST will have to hand over any drugs, alcohol or weapons such as knives that might be in their possession.

“They won’t get these items back. Along with their bags, each person will be searched to ensure they are not a threat to the safety of other people at the shelter.”

The night shelter doors will open at 8pm and people will be expected to leave the building by 8am the following day.

Ms Wickliffe says the shelter will complement the Auckland City Mission redevelopment.

“This facility is not being built to compete with it. It’s going to be there to support it. They’re not going to build a night shelter in their new facility. That’s not a criticism as they’re doing other great things for homeless people including providing food,” she says.

While the night shelter is on target to open before winter, the Trust will appeal for corporate funding, Givealittle crowd funding, along with applying for Auckland City Council and Government support.

It’s estimated that running the NEST will have an annual cost of between $800,000 and $1 million.

Ms Wickliffe is also encouraging other lawyers to get involved in the Trust on a pro-bono basis.

“We need an employment specialist because we’ll be hiring a general manager. We also need a lawyer with expertise in public liability and contract law. We need them now,” she says.

Already they have secured Ian McCombe, a partner of Brookfields who specialises in lease and trust law, Edwin Sheppard, a solicitor at Berry Simons Environmental Law who specialises in resource management law, and Anton Trixl, a partner at Anderson Lloyd who specialises in employment and contract law, along with another lawyer who is a specialist in public liability law.

The trustee judge

Some people might not expect a judge to be involved in a project that benefits the homeless.

But Judge Grant Fraser leads the Family Violence Court in Auckland and Manukau. He regularly sees homeless people in his courtroom, so he has personal insight into their lifestyle and living conditions.

Michelle Kidd
Michelle Kidd 

“We spend a lot of time outside of that court reaching out to the community. Part of that responsibility for me was to take on the job of being a trustee for this cause.

“Being subjected to violence is, sadly, something that regularly happens to homeless people. But if you consider the stressful situation that homeless people are operating under and the needs that they have, which are often unmet, it’s hardly surprising,” he says.

Judge Fraser says getting people off the streets into accommodation, even if it is only temporary, limits the night time opportunities for violent offending against them.

“If we can get people off the streets and into safe accommodation, then we are achieving our objective. They’re free from molestation by city thugs.”

Judge Fraser’s involvement will be ongoing. “I’m here for as long as I’m needed. I’ve been a judge for over 20 years. I had 12 years in the Family Court, so I’ve seen how desperate the need is for a facility like this.”

‘Homeless people are not the problem, they’re the result of the problem’

It’s a sobering statement but Michelle Kidd, who was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for her tireless work for the homeless, stands by it. She has had a 20-year selfless career standing up for the homeless. She knows them, and they know her.

She is one of the trustees with the NEST project. Rising daily at 4:30am to cook porridge for the homeless of South Auckland and then go on to act as a support person at the Auckland and Manukau District Courts for homeless people is all part of a normal day for Ms Kidd.

As she explains, homeless people are vulnerable to so much more than just cold winter nights.

“Both women and men are exposed to all forms of possible abuse. This includes being physically attacked, including women and men being raped. This can happen on the streets of Auckland. I’ve been trying to get a decent night shelter in Auckland for the past 20 years. This will be an excellent facility, not a dog box. People will be safe and respected,” she says.

There have been night shelters in Auckland in the past but they haven’t proved sustainable.

Long-term plan: open more shelters

The long-term plan, Michelle Kidd says, is to open more night shelters in other areas of Auckland, as homelessness is not just a central business district problem.

“People are quite generous in Auckland, but as one homeless person said to me, ‘they’re (the homeless) like pigeons, in that people want to feed us but not take us home’,” she says.

Ms Kidd says the night shelter will provide basics for people that most of us take for granted.

“People will be able to go to the night shelter, lay their head down and feel safe. Can you imagine what it is like not showering for months on end?”

Lawyers keen to contribute some time to the project can contact Jo Wickliffe at  jo@jolaw.co.nz

Last updated on the 8th April 2019