Headline you will not see: Man who stubbornly refused help died sleeping outside

via RNZ, file, not related to this story

Rough sleepers in Auckland will continue to die unnecessarily this winter unless shelters are setup across the city, a church support worker says.

Keith Johnson, 57, died in his sleep on a bench at the St Peter’s Anglican Church cemetery in Onehunga in the early hours of Saturday 1 July.

The bench had been his home for four years.

And over those four years, social, local and government support agencies tried everything in their power to convince Keith to walk away from his chosen lifestyle.   

Pesa Wilson of the New Hope Fellowship said every suburb should have a place for the homeless to stay at night and keep out of the elements.

“My friend Keith died in the elements … he went out the door and I never saw him again.”

Pesa, Keith could have slept inside for years by now.  It’s not a matter of him wanting to sleep inside.  He clearly made a choice not to.  The availability of places for people like Keith is therefore irrelevant to this tragedy.

About half a dozen men sleep at a public toilet block less than 100m from Mr Johnson’s bench.

And at least one man sleeps in his car in the carpark nearby.

“When it’s stormy at night or when it’s raining it really gives me nightmares,” Mr Wilson said.

“I worry about the guys and girls out there because when you have a relationship with these people, you have a connection.”

Mr Johnson was beloved by his community. Outpourings of grief have been posted on social media.

His daughter, Kannon, said he had made some mistakes and some bad choices, but was a loving father who did not get the help he needed for his alcoholism.

Don’t blame society for Keith’s choices.

The help has been there all along.  Sadly, Keith’s demons had more power over him than anyone else.

“Everyone is trying to change the homeless epidemic by putting them into housing, but that’s not the main part, the main part is addiction.”

The New Hope Fellowship offers budgeting advice, counselling, food, and a gym where both young people can work out and stay out of trouble, and the homeless can shower.

Mr Wilson said most of Onehunga’s rough sleepers have used the facilities “at least once or twice”.

“Something Keith said really stuck with me, [Keith] said, ‘Pesa, all I want for people to do is, I’m not asking for money or this or that, I just want them to treat me as a human being, that’s it.’

 

– Zac Fleming, RNZ


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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