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:
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.”
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.