When people get more upset about Greenpeace activists scaling parliament than the millions of people who will be killed in climate-related disasters, we have a problem

Last Thursday four activists carrying solar panels, scaled Parliament in Wellington in a direct action to deliver a powerful and necessary message about climate change to our PM John Key:


“Cut Pollution, create jobs? Yeah, Nah.”

There has been a lot of condemnation and ‘tut, tut, tutting’ and finger-wagging directed at the allegedly illegal actions of these Greenpeace activists. Yeah, I get it: people don’t like Greenpeace or activists in general, especially ones who engage in supposedly illegal actions. Some believe the environmental juggernaut is about nothing more than getting as many donations as they can through their street campaigners (who probably annoy and fuck off more people than they recruit to the cause) and that direct actions like this are for show and controversy for controversy’s sake. Not to draw attention to the defining crisis of our lifetime: climate change.

A Palmerston North Council member posted the Facebook update below in relation to the direct action.  I’m reposting it because I believe it speaks to a wider culture of people who hold simular beliefs around activism.

green peace nah

Let’s break this shit down. First of all, John Key has denied climate change has anything to do with the spate of flooding we have seen recently in Aotearoa which caused mass evacuations. Cycleways may be on John Key’s ‘shit-to-do list’ but climate change certainly isn’t. John supports the dangerous practice of fracking and is all for ‘cash for gas’ and has told New Zealanders it is perfectly safe despite growing evidence to the contrary. In an issue of The New Internationalist, from 2013, when fracking was a relatively new process, Danny Chivers wrote in ‘Fracking: the gathering storm’:

“Some call [fracking] an energy revolution, others a toxic threat. It’s been hailed as the dawn of a new era and condemned as the final deadly fossil fuel rush that will carry us over the climate cliff.”

In 2012, US fracking generated 1,060 billion litres of wastewater contaminated with heavy metals, chemicals and hydrocarbons which was then pumped directly back down into the earth as ‘solution’. Christopher Smith, a microbiologist, recently told me when we spoke about wastewater from fracking: “Many studies have since found traces of these contaminants [heavy metals] in drinking water close to the drill sites and much controversy still surrounds this topic.”

Still, John Key insists fracking is safe. John and his revenue-hungry government have a vested interest in keeping oil companies such as Statoil happy and profitable, not saving our planet from human-induced climate-related destruction and death.

But by all means please, continue to condemn these activists while world leaders continue to make weak climate change deals and get into bed with dirty fossil fuel companies at the cost of millions of lives, and the destruction of whole entire countries such as Kiribati. A pacific Island nation which the IPPC predicts will be swallowed completely by rising sea-levels in our life-time, and whose water source is being destroyed by ocean creep.

Greenpeace activists were not ‘attacking’ the Prime Minster as Neil Miller claimed, but holding power to account – something journalists in this country routinely fail to do.  So often activists who commit illegal direct actions or what people dean ‘immoral’ or ‘offensive’ acts are criticised harshly and condemned by a mainstream media and the wider population and I, for one, am fucking tired of it.  When the law is unjust the law should be broken.  Susan Sontag said in a keynote address, On Courage and Resistance:

‘We are all conscripts in one sense or another. For all of us, it is hard to break ranks; to incur the disapproval, the censure, the violence of an offended majority with a different idea of loyalty.’

Endlessly protesters who have legitimate grievances are told they are, or are portrayed as, ‘dirty hippies’, ‘whinging idiots’ and ‘violent thugs’. In ‘No Justice, No Peace: why the Baltimore riots where justified,’ activist and writer Juan Thompson poignantly points out:

‘Broken lives should always be prioritized over broken windows.’

From Baltimore to Ferguson, black and brown protesters and white allies have been condemned by white Fox News anchors and the wider American population, who took issue with a few broken windows and overturned cop cars. When uprisings erupted over the ongoing police violence and the killing of unarmed black and brown folk and the race and class warfare minorities endure on the daily, in America, we need to ask: what is worse – destroyed property or destroyed lives? What matters more – the lives lost because of police and can never ever be replaced, or possessions that can likely be bought again?

When people are more offended and outraged by activists destroying property or ‘scaling it’ than the very thing they are protesting – the destruction of communities, of people’s lives, of the entire planet – you know, we not only have a problem with our collective perspective.  We have a problem with our own humanity.

This Council member may have felt the direct action in question was “poor timing”, but when would have been a good time for this direct action to take place? When the shrinking window of time we have left to take deep actions on a global scale to (at least) slow down climate change has closed completely? As the picket slogan goes: “sorry to inconvenience you, we are trying to change the world.”

Perhaps the reason why some people in Aotearoa see actions like those taken by the four Greenpeace activist as “radical” and utterly unhelpful is because our media has mostly kept us ignorant of the devastating human and environmental effects of climate chaos. In polls carried out by both the NZ Herald and RadioLIVE asking if people were in favour of the actions of the Greenpeace activists, mostly, people were in support. But a recent study shows New Zealanders have one of the highest levels of climate change scepticism. The crisis of climate change is to most New Zealanders an abstract issue that probably won’t affect them in their lifetimes. These people are deadly wrong.

I talked about Kiribati before, an island nation which locals darkly joke is about to become ‘the next Atlantis.’  Ioane Teitiota and his family moved to Aotearoa in 2007 from Kiribati and he applied to be the world’s first legal climate change refugee in New Zealand courts. As sea-levels rise his homeland is becoming increasingly uninhabitable; waves crash over storm barriers and are destroying ground-water supplies.

Despite mounting evidence Ioane and his family have been displaced by climate change and will suffer very real and adverse consequences if they return home, the New Zealand Court of Appeal ruled that Ioane was not a climate change refugee. While the international media extensively covered the plight of Ioane, we barely heard a whisper in our New Zealand media.

Instead of condemning the Greenpeace protesters who scaled parliament to draw attention to John Key’s broken promises of creating jobs, and his lack of action and horrific indifference over climate change, I’d rather condemn this callous court ruling. I’d rather be appalled at our media’s complete black-out of Teitiota and his story. But you can’t condemn what you can’t see. It is much easier to call into question the actions of a couple of protesters who posed a ‘security risk’ at Parliament than a judicial system that is yet to catch-up with climate change, at the expense of millions of people who need safe shelter from the storm.


If you would like to learn more about Ioane Teitiota and the consequences  people in the pacific are facing because of climate change, please check-out the links below:

Foriegn Policy: The making of a climate refugee (this is an incredible piece of journalism, and if you want a really good grasp on Ioane’s situation, check this piece out!)

The Guardian: New Zealand refuses climate change refugee – mass action is needed now

ClimateProgress: Why these tiny island nations are planning to sue fossil fuel companies

If you would like to see interactive ‘before and after’ images of the impacts of climate-change and ocean creep on both Kiribati and the Marshall islands, check out THIS LINK.

Homelessness is not some ‘quirky life-style’ choice no matter what hipsters tell you

How unaffordable are Auckland’s living costs? In fact, how unaffordable are living costs all over the world from England to Greece? Do you want a solution to the staggering rental prices millions of young people are struggling to pay? Cool. Me too. Well, the NZ Herald journalist Simon Collins has found it: just live in your car or van or whatever has four wheels. Seriously, it isn’t that bad! It’s an extended, fun-filled road-trip where you will get to see the countryside and meet (read: view) all kinds of interesting ‘vagrants’ and socially disenfranchised and marginalised.

Just ask couple Jesse Hamilton and Lorielle Vidot that Simon managed to find for his article ‘Living on the streets: this couple does not think it is that bad.’ Lorielle and Jesse, who intend to travel around New Zealand in their car, told Simon,

“They have discovered a whole new community since they abandoned their four-bedroom house in Auckland and took to the streets with their 10-month old cat Jango.”

Obviously, being able to bring your cat along for the ‘homeless ride’ is a real deal sweetener? Perhaps, living on the streets isn’t ‘so bad’ for this traveling couple because they haven’t been given no other option because of tragic and unforeseen circumstances or cuts to their welfare or been priced out of Aotearoa’s soaring rental market. Jesse and Lorielle gave up their dry and warm four bedroom house not because some property hoarding Baby Boomer landlord hiked up the rent by 10% so they could no longer afford to live there, they wanted to try something new and homelessness just looked “pretty cool” as Lorelle said.  So, they gave up creature comforts and their worldly possessions to ‘sleep rough’. Plus, this way they save money.

Jesse and Lorielle aren’t the only bourgeois people who have shunned a conventional life-style in favour of the great unknown:

In the book ‘Into the Wild’ based on the true accounts of a young man called Christopher McCandless who was the son of wealthy parents. Christopher decided to voluntarily give up his cushy white-suburban life and turn his back on the evils of consumerism and capitalism. He set out into the Alaskan wilderness where, due to utter lack of survival skills and being completely unprepared for what he encountered (like bad weather and Moose’s) ended up dying a pretty painful death, alone. It was determined Christopher most likely died of starvation.

Unlike Christopher both Jesse and Lorielle and of course their cat Jango, certainly aren’t starving (like the 280,000 children who live in poverty in this country) in fact quite the opposite. By going-it-homeless they have managed to save $3,000 bucks. Jesse went on to say,

“No one thinks about moving into a car as a good alternative. They think of setting up flats. But I like the idea of trying something different, it’s good to be put out of your comfort zone.”

Yeah, I guess most people wouldn’t see moving into their car as a ‘good alternative’, you know why? Because, it just fucking isn’t. Compared to living in a dry, warm house which isn’t filthy and mould ridden and has a reasonable and fair rental price (an almost unachievable feat in Auckland’s unregulated rental market).  Moving into your car is a last resort for the majority of people; it is not some ‘quirky’ alternative-lifestyle choice (which is exactly how journalist Simon Collins has presented it in his article) you can tell your other middle-class hipster and neo-hippy friends about in a few years on a summers evening over, a micro-brewed beer served in a Mason jar.

What pseudo homeless couple Jesse and Lorielle fail to recognise, is: if you purposely abandon a four bedroom house to travel New Zealand in a van and you have the economic means to return to a nice warm home when you want, you aren’t ‘homeless’ or ‘sleeping rough’ – which implies you are homeless.  For Simon Collin (who has done some really good reporting on homelessness recently so, this piece was a bit baffling) to present this couple as such, is not only dishonest it is miss-leading and more dangerously is coded in neoliberal rhetoric which pushes the belief and myth people – individuals – are solely responsible for their own circumstances; just like being poor, homelessness is a choice people make.

Homelessness is a chic option for Jesse and Lorielle, not, a grinding reality.

All over Aotearoa people are enduring desperate situations, families and the elderly are living out of their cars, cold garages and tents – economic disparities are at crisis levels. Recently Mervyn “Jim” Cross a 69 year old pensioner lived out of his car for two months before public out-cry saw him being placed into a small unit. Most people who are desperate for adequate housing in Aotearoa aren’t so lucky. Since 2007 (it is important to note National took power in 2008) the need for emergency housing has spiked drastically, as this Housing New Zealand list shows:

housing nz

It is rumoured MP Nick Smith who is the Housing Minister, is keen to change the very definition of “house” to include cars, garages and tents as the journalist Paul Little pointed out in his piece ‘Housing Minster loses the plot’ for the NZ Herald (now and then the ‘Herald actually publish journalists who do their jobs and hold power to account). Guess this way the shameful statistics for homelessness in Aotearoa could be jigged around and wouldn’t look so dismal and so irresponsible?

National lowered welfare numbers by pushing people (including those with a disability and serious mental health issues) off the dole and into low paid part-time employment – which often does not pay more than the benefit. The government now appears to be making progress on ‘welfare bludgers’. If they can make welfare numbers look good, surely, National can pull another magic-trick in regards to the rising numbers of homelessness? “Most of us have grown used to politicians showing us things that aren’t really there,” wrote Paul Little.

Despite the crushing realities of poverty for hundreds of thousands of people in this country and globally, for people like Jesse and Lorielle (who hopefully will never have to endure the injustice of being denied the basic human right of warm, dry and safe housing) it can be easy to romanticise the very real struggles of others. The hipster model Ricki Hall in a recent interview for the Sunday Times said,

“I use this time to think about my day. I take style tips from everything, even kids to homeless people. They can pull anything together and it just works.”

Ricki is a fanboy of the homeless ‘look’ – so vogue. Naturally twitter owned his off-the-cuff comments dubbing him the ‘real life Zoolander’. Comparing what he said to the Zoolander character Mugato who created an entire fashioned ranged called Derelicte: “inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.”

ricki 2

ricki hall 3

ricki hall 5

ricki hall 6

ricki hall 3

The very real experiences of those living in poverty or suffering homelessness are often trivialised and minimised by our media, by those who have been lucky enough to land a good job and a secure pay-check, and by famous people who are nearly always divorced from the 99%.  They cannot imagine what it might be like to be truly homeless; to suffer the injustice of being denied a safe place to sleep and enough food to eat. It is much easier to turn homelessness into some kind of ‘life-style’ choice or a fashion statement, then face the painful truth about the current state of things: that many people through no fault of their own, are being pushed with-in an inch of their lives.

The rising costs of low-waged work

A few months back I was at a picketline to protest the low-wages at Alderman Drive, PAK’n’SAVE* in Auckland. The wages at this particular supermarket were pathetic: the owner Rayner Bonnington, had offered his staff a measly 32 cents pay rise even though the minimum wage (which sat at $14.25 an hour) had already been  raised by 50 cents in Aotearoa because of the annual increase,  this year. Meaning the pay raise Rayner offered would sit below our minimum wage.

Rayner pays his staff poverty wages to stack his shelves and sell food they likely cannot even afford themselves because of the subhuman wages he pays them. I got talking to a Union delegate who was at the picket also, and we discussed the much publicised use of zero-hour contracts by fast-food giants such as Starbucks and Wendy’s in Aotearoa. These contracts are used all over the world, particularly in the United Kingdom, to disempower and impoverish workers and strip away their rights to guaranteed hours so profitable companies can save money. The delegate told me:

“If you are on zero hours it’s pretty obvious that you would be better off on the dole. If your hours fluctuate above and below the threshold at which you might be entitled to additional assistance, the dole would provide more certainty and stability,

Especially, when one hour paid work a week is considered employment in this country.”

I have been on welfare, lots. I am part of what some of my case managers call the ‘revolving door’ at WINZ (Work and Income) – as in, I keep coming back with my hand out like Oliver Twist asking, “please Sir, can I have some more?”

I’ve also spent the better part of the last decade working low-paid and insecure hospitality work and I’ve always been subject to casual contracts, which effectively operate just like a zero hours contract. I have worked up to three jobs so I can scrounge enough hours together to pay back my student loan and pay bills and rent. I rarely, if ever,  know how much my pay cheque is going to be or how many hours I will get from the jobs I am working. Some weeks I earn 300 bucks, sometimes a bit more,  but often a lot less.

When I have been sacked for whatever reason from whatever crap job I am working, or if I’m simply struggling to scrape together enough hours to break 20 hours a week (under-employment is a massive problem in this country) I find myself at WINZ again.

Trust me when I say: I really don’t want to be there.

Being denied the use of the toilets (‘cause hey, I might do crack in there), then being told by some plucky and patronising case manager who checked their compassion and self-awareness at the door,  that I just need to “think ‘positive’ about my situation” (as if a change in attitude is going to change a stagnate job market) as I hold back tears, ‘cause honestly this shit is just embarrassing, isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.

The humiliating experiences of being on welfare aside, at the very least, as this Union Delegate pointed out to me, I always knew exactly how much I was going to get a week: around 250 bucks.

Unlike so many of the hospitality jobs I have worked where I have been ‘let go’ without any warning, I would at least get a courtesy letter from WINZ telling me in a week my welfare would be sanctioned because I had “failed to meet my job seeker requirements”. Whatever the fuck that means because let’s be honest: no-one honours the requirement to look for a job eight hours a day, five days a week.

But the guarantee that the State will look after you when you are down-and-out is disintegrating as safety-nets in Aotearoa are being systematically gutted. Since the late 1980s right-wing and nominally left-wing governments and politicians (notably Labour’s Roger Douglas and National’s Ruth Richardson) have implemented economic and social policies that have eroded welfare and cut public spending and made it harder and harder for the political underclass to step up on the social and economic ladder and access upward mobility.

National MP Paula Bennett, who traded in her humanity for parliamentary status and a secure pay cheque (which pays well above a liveable wage), is committed to breaking the cycle of welfare dependency in Aotearoa and has undertaken brutal welfare reforms. In 2013, Paula targeted the youth benefit, those on the sickness and invalid benefits and sole parents on the DPB (Dependant Parent benefit) – some of Aotearoa’s most vulnerable and often the most in need of state support and care.

National’s recent 2015 budget will push parents on the DPB into work when their tamariki turn three, instead of the previous five. Rather than spending an extra two years focused on raising their beautiful tamariki – Aotearoa’s next generation – sole parents on the DPB will be forced into work, and will be expected to take whatever job is offered no matter how meaningless and underpaid – or suffer cuts to their welfare payments.

The people who will be affected the most by National’s latest welfare reforms are the children of parents who will go to school with empty bellies when sanctions are placed on their parent’s DPB, if sole parents fail to meet ‘job seeker requirements’. You have to wonder if Paula and other National politicians took this into consideration when they wrote this reform. Poor and callous governance from our political leaders has a lot more to answer for than ‘poor parenting’ does.

All over the world tory governments are waging an endless war against the political underclass. In England, the ongoing sanctions against people who receive welfare and are deemed ‘fit for work’ have resulted in many welfare deaths. One of the most publicised such deaths was David Clapson, as the Independent reported:

[…]a diabetes sufferer who was found dead from acute lack of insulin after his benefits had been stopped. There was no food in his flat – or in his stomach, an autopsy found – and he had just £3.44 in his bank account. Why? Because the ex-soldier, who was reportedly found with a pile of printed CVs near his body, had been deemed not to be taking the search for work seriously enough.

David died starving and alone.

In the United Kingdom, the Black Triangle Campaign has compiled a haunting ‘welfare body count’. So far it is estimated 60 people who suffered from disability or mental health issues have died needlessly like David or taken their own lives because of the threat of sanctions or implemented cuts to their benefit. (You can find painful and devastating examples of the human cost of welfare sanctions in England here).

Aotearoa has its own growing body count in relation to cuts to public spending and the systematic failure of our government to take care of its most vulnerable. In 2010, Bruce Arnold took his own life after ongoing unemployment and battles with government services. Simon Priest, who was related to Bruce, addresses the Prime Minster in a piece for the NZ Herald, saying:

Prime Minister, on the night of August 18, 2010, my uncle Bruce Arnold took his own life. He was 60 years old. He leaves behind a wife and son. After a long struggle with your various mental health and ACC agencies and unemployment, depression finally got the better of him.

With social bonds providing financial incentives to bully people who have a mental health diagnosis into work in Aotearoa, life for those who need support from the state is only going to get worse.

I talked to Corie Haddock, Lifewise Community Development Manager, about the impacts of welfare reforms. He told me:

“The reality is we have a government that doesn’t care about the people of this country.

Welfare should be about two things: catching and supporting those in need, and providing opportunity for those people to change and grow. The WINZ system doesn’t do either of those things.”

When I asked Corrie if he believed the ongoing welfare reforms were punitive to our most vulnerable he responded, “Absolutely, they are completely punitive towards those most in need and the cost is another generation of disempowered people.”

Our government are punishing people who fail to secure jobs that simply aren’t there. Overwhelmingly, the jobs that are available in this country are demeaning, poorly-paid and offer almost no security.

The depressing reality is that welfare, despite the punitive reforms and constant threats of sanctions, can still offer more financial stability (no matter how meagre the state ‘hand-out’ is) than much low-paid work in sectors such as the service industry.

Political parties in this country often talk about ‘job creation’, but rarely do politicians speak of meaningful job creation.

We need jobs that serve people and their wellbeing, not just the economy. We need employers that guarantee hours and act with their workers best interests at heart. What needs to be a priority of political parties in this country is the creation of jobs that contribute to society and our communities, not the profit margins of massively lucrative companies.

In face of mass unemployment in the 1930s New Zealanders got together forming powerful movements to fight for the interests of the poor and working class, culminating in the victory of the first Labour government and creation of the welfare state. If we as citizens of Aotearoa cannot find the courage and conviction to come together in great and undefeatable numbers to demand an equal society. Where wealth is evenly dispersed and employers pay a liveable wage, we will have condemned the coming generations to life-times of debt, depression and disconnection. People in Aotearoa deserve more than just to survive, they deserve to thrive.

This blog is a cross-post from The Daily Blog. 

*Many other ‘PAK’nSAVE’s treat their staff appallingly and pickets have also taken place in Rotorua and more recently in Whakatane:


Welcome to Aotearoa: where our most vulnerable youths are being left behind

I was walking downtown in Auckland City, a few weeks back and I heard someone call  over to me – “Nice boots!”  I looked over and saw a young guy wrapped up in a dirty blanket staring down at my Doc Martens with a big grin on his face. I walked over to him and plonked myself down, rummaged through my bag for some change and in between my apologies that I had so little to give, we got talking.

He told me his name was Oliver, he was 17, and had been on the streets for just over a year now. I asked Oliver how he got here as I pointed at the pavement. He said, “My mum died and she had debt, obviously I could not pay it back so the bank took everything but my bed. I couldn’t lug that around, so I just left it.”

Oliver told me he gets beaten up in the shelters so just stays out in the open and he has been unable to access any governmental assistance since he became homeless. I wanted to tell this young guy that “it gets better”. I wanted to make promises to him that soon shit will not be so awful and unfair. But I know this is a brutal lie to tell him. I know I would be engaging in neoliberal myth-making – selling him what the journalist Laurie Penny calls “a desperate fairy-tale ”.

Instead, I say, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry this has happened to you. This world is unfair and shit, and so many of our politicians do not care about young people like you, because they are selfish and short-sighted and I’m just … so very sorry.”

He looked at me and he raised his dirt covered hand and Oliver said, “High fucking five to that.”

I promised Oliver I’d take him for a coffee next time I saw him and I added him on Facebook so I could get hold of him (he told me his phone was stolen the first night he was on the streets, so Facebook would have to do). I wish I could have promised him more than just a measly cup of coffee: I wish I could have promised Oliver he would, at the very least, have a fair shot at life.

But I know this is untrue. I know the longer you stay in poverty the harder it is to get out of it. I know the best way to drag yourself out of poverty is through education. But our current National Government has made it harder and harder for people from low-income families (and Oliver does not even have a family for support) to access higher education through the slashing of student allowances. Even if he made it to university, Oliver would exit from whatever degree he got into a flooded job market. Like so many highly-skilled graduates, he would be forced to take any work, no matter how awful and underpaid, to support himself and pay back staggering student loan debt, while trying to meet the demands of unregulated rental prices which have risen by 10% in Auckland since last year as the NZ Herald reported earlier this year

I wanted to promise Oliver he would not be blamed and made to feel solely responsible for his situation; for living in poverty and having no home, no place to go. But I knew this would be a lie, too.

Shortly after talking to Oliver, I had to jump on a train and get to work. I told my baby-boomer boss, Bob, who made his millions in the  deep south of the States  drilling for oil (and who pays me a whopping 25 cents over minimum wage to bust tables at his restaurant) about this young man when I got to work.

I knew what his response would be. I nearly always know what people will say when I speak about poverty and homelessness. He simply told me: “When I was young I took any job whether it was picking fruit or shovelling shit at the stables.” Yeah, he really used the ‘I shovelled shit’ line. I’m surprised he didn’t say he also travelled 100 miles in the snow to get there.

Bob told me he had little sympathy for street kids because: “They could be doing more to get themselves off the streets. They couldn’t rely on welfare hand-outs and the state.” Why is it that so many seem to also think compassion and empathy are some kind of ‘hand-out’ that people who are struggling economically do not deserve?

From Bob’s privileged perspective, precious tamariki who end up on the streets for whatever heartbreaking and tragic reasons just need to ‘suck it up’ and pull their socks up (if they own any) and beg for work – as if ‘begging’ for work is an indignity homeless youths deserve.

I tried to point out it would be incredibly hard for Oliver, who had no clean clothes, no reliable access to a shower and who visibly looks like he has been sleeping rough, to find any work, even the depressing and exploitive work that seems to be the only kind on offer to so many young people struggling to survive in Aotearoa.

My boss simply shrugged me off. What would I know anyway?

I asked one final question: “Well then, would you hire him?”

My boss fell quiet, looked contemplative for a moment and then said, “He wouldn’t have the experience.”

Because busting tables is fucking rocket science?

Bob, whose conscience seems to have suffered a terminal malfunction, believes the myth that homelessness is some kind of lifestyle choice. Maybe my boss, like millions of others, just cannot imagine what it might be like for a homeless young person who is alone on the streets with no family to turn to and a government which is apathetic to the needs of its most vulnerable? I have to believe this, because the alternative is more depressing – that they just do not care.

As Kathryn Doughty, who is Youthline’s Auckland Central Centre Manager points out, “Deciding to leave home with nowhere to go is never a decision made lightly – commonly, financial obstacles and a history of abuse or instability make independent living extremely difficult.”

Last week the Guardian ran a powerful piece on the growing political and cultural issue of homelessness in New York city. Lauren Sandler wrote:

Too many people exist under the assumption that there’s a place for these people, a mechanism to care for them, but usually there isn’t. The state doesn’t engage with them as much as it must – and most New Yorkers don’t either, remaining not just passive in the face of need, but actively shutting it out.

This statement easily holds true for Auckland City. Daily, I see people walk past the homeless in Auckland’s CBD, barely giving them a thoughtful glance, let alone any spare change. Like climate change, the enormity of the human issue of homelessness, which is devastatingly visible all around us if we only use our peripheral vision, is often so overwhelming people would rather ignore it. Or better yet, instead of recognising (oppressive) structural factors contributing to homelessness, we blame the individual for their own hardship.

When I spoke to a social worker named Amanda*, who works for CYF (Child, Youth and Family) about youth homelessness and why so many young people are ending up on our streets, she told me:

“The government’s policy on ‘transition to youth’ only heightens youth homelessness; when a child turns 17 CYF legally have no responsibility for them, which is far too young. Quite often these children have no family to ‘transition’ to. So they end up living on the streets, in jail or in gangs … the New Zealand Government should be responsible for children in care till they are 20. Especially, because so many of them function well below their actual age.”

More than half of Aotearoa’s homeless are under the age of 25 and governmental policies are not only perpetuating youth homelessness, they are making it worse. When I asked Amanda if it is frustrating for her to come up against government policies restricting her capacity to help young people at risk, she said, “As a social worker I feel powerless. As a human being and a role model to my young I feel responsible. We set up our youth to fail and then wonder what we could have done earlier… when it is too late.”

Rather than homelessness, what needs to be judged and shamed harshly by wider society is the lack of compassion and empathy that so many people show when they talk about and react to those who are homeless and struggling to survive. Instead, on the whole, most people who engage in ignorant poverty-shaming rhetoric (which perpetuates myths and harmful beliefs around homelessness) get away with it, consequence free.

We need far fewer people like Bob, who kind of sounds like a sociopath, who seems to believe people who are struggling economically deserve every ounce of suffering and pain they get, and more people like Amanda, who commit to feeling something other than just disdain and doing something other than just laying blame. We need compassion and empathy – both from our citizens, and from our government. The people who need to be held to account are not usually our homeless, but the people who created the policies that put them there.

*This name has been changed to protect the indentity of this person

Update: The NZ Herald reported on the 10 of June that CYFS is now under review and the National government is considering raising the age that youths are released from the foster care system. You can read the article here. But as Labour MP Jacinda Ardern pointed out on her FB page in regards to National’s review:

“Pleased to see the Minister agrees, but I’ve also seen National vote against our attempts to change this law more than once.”

Jacinda has also started a petition to raise the age of child protection services from 17 to 18, you can sign here:


Work like a maniac, deprive yourself of sleep, and you might be able to buy a shitty house in Hamilton

Recently the NZ Herald posted an article, ‘Student becomes property investor’ about a young 22 year old student, Brandon Lipman who, ‘against all odds’ and through ‘hard work’ managed to scrape together the $45,000 needed for a deposit on a house in Hamilton, New Zealand. Wow. This is an impressive feat in the current housing market in New Zealand, particularly in places such as Auckland where housing prices are spiralling out of control and wages are still as low as ever. The NZ Herald reported,

“The keen basketball player saved the money while studying towards a commerce and science degree, working from 9pm to 5am each night at Countdown supermarket during his first year,”

Through what Brandon calls ‘sacrifices’ and ‘hard-work’ (and a lot of help from his parents), he has been able to secure buying his first home before he has even finished his degree.

Be, inspired!

If Brandon can do it anyone can. Sounds easy, right? After all, Brandon is living proof that the New Zealand dream of owning property is possible at a young age, despite our hard economic times.

There are three words for all of this: Utter. Fucking. Bullshit.

I have something to say to Lane Nichols who penned this article on Brandon (where do they find these people? Probably, on the mean streets of Parnell) and the NZ Herald at large, who often push bullshit stories like these, as some kind of underdog triumphant that we should, and can, all aspire to:

Please stop painting upper-class white men who managed to step-up on the property ladder through ‘sacrifice’, ‘hard-work’ and good old fashioned ‘elbow grease’ as some kind of ‘underdog’ story. They aren’t. As my friend aptly said in response to Lane’s article “I reinvented the headline for this: Privileged White Man from the Upper-Middle Classes Trades Personality for Property Portfolio”.

Sometimes the international papers such as the New York Times , also make out like Taylor Swift is some kind of ‘underdog’ who faced huge adversity before she ‘made it’ in Hollywood with her pop songs about dating famous dudes who also sing shitty pop songs through auto-tune. The reality being, Taylor was born into to the one percent, and her daddy bought into the record label she was signed to. This is called: A MASSIVE LEG UP. Obviously, Swift is not an underdog; she was born into the rich elite and has benefited, like I do to, greatly from white and class privilege. Hard-work was not the only thing that got Taylor to the top of the billboards, by any means.

You know what happens when poor people get a ‘leg up’ from the state? The right-wing and the centre right shame them for it and call it a ‘hand out’. The poor and working poor are told they are feckless and lazy and are undeserving of any kind of state help or ‘leg up’. I thought it was worth pointing this hypocrisy out.

What this all means is: if we as ~ individuals ~ fail to rise above the poverty line, fail to secure well paid work, and thus fail to save for a house deposit and in turn fail to achieve our dreams (even if they are as humble as securing meaningful, well paid work), it is our own fault. We did not work hard enough. We made bad life choices. You, are just a bit of a loser. It is not the fault of a failed economic model and the savagery of late capitalism that only serves the super wealthy at the expense of the 99 percent. It’s not the fault of retired National politicians like Ruth Richardson whose budget reforms in the early 90’s in Aotearoa, known as ‘The Mother of all Budgets’ eroded welfare, job security and landed young people with crippling student debt. Your failure to do well economically, has nothing to do with a minimum wage that does not cover rising living costs in Aotearoa.

Nah, let’s never EVER hold power to account? Something journalists in this country seem to refuse to do apart from rare exceptions such as John Campbell, whose current affairs show was recently axed. Let’s just blame people for their unfair and depressing circumstances, not what created these circumstances in the first place.  To compound feelings of worthlessness, frustration and failure that so many people who are struggling to stay afloat and buy food (let alone a house), are feeling right now, the NZ Herald and the New York Times hold up shining examples of young people, who are nearly always white and come from wealth, such as Brandon and Taylor Swift (seriously?) who ‘made it’ in tough economic times and/or through [manufactured] ‘hardship’. So why can’t you?

The NZ Herald ran a second piece ‘Property Investment not a reality for students – Association’, in response to mounting criticisms of Lane Nicolas’s profile piece, pointing out, that perhaps Brandon’s story of triumph was not a fair representation of all students. The article quoted Rory McCourt, who is the president of the student association, saying “Most students are wondering how they’ll afford next week’s rent or ever pay back their mounting loan. Mr Lipman’s story is the exception, not the reality,” but Brandon still insists in this second piece that hard-work can, and does pay off. “Everyone puts up with different things,” said Brandon.

Yeah we certainly all do, have to put up with different circumstances, like sole mother Trina Nesbitt who is living in a caravan in Christchurch, with her two kids, because she cannot afford the city’s rental prices.

I am part of a generation that has been locked out of the housing market and this reality is not going to suddenly change because I land a minimum wage full-time job at a supermarket and work long shitty hours, stacking shelves.  How on earth Brandon managed to save $45,000 in just a few years even with his parents paying for his living costs is, beyond me. As a low waged earner working two jobs in the service industry, I can tell you the math, simply, does not add up.  North and South recently quoted Shamubeel Eaqub, principal economist for the NZ Institution of Economic Research, saying,

“[…] the average house price in Auckland has spiralled to ten times the average income of a couple in their 30s. That means most young New Zealanders – including those now in their teens – will never be able to afford a place of their own.”

We have been told, as young people, that if we endure a little bit of ‘discomfort’, we’ll be better off, both financially and spiritually, in the long term. This is a brutal lie to tell young people. The idea that hard-work will get you anywhere in our society of ‘haves and have nots’, where structural poverty, racism and sexism disadvantages large sections of society, is nothing more than neoliberal myth making.  In the Book Ruth, Roger and Me: Debts and Legacies 27-year old author Andrew Dean writes,

“My Generation of New Zealanders has been told that being uncomfortable will make us work harder and strive further. We have been bought up on what Ruth Richardson calls the ‘stiff medicine’ of her reforms, and now we must be healthier for it.”

I am tired of examples like Brandon being held up to my generation as proof that if you swallow Ruth’s ‘stiff medicine’ and work like a maniac and deprive yourself of the necessity of sleep, you too can buy a shitty house hundreds of kilometres from where you live.

 This is a cross post from The Daily Blog.