30 Aug 2017

'We need a change' - Grandmother feeding the homeless

9:39 pm on 30 August 2017

In the four years Debbie Munroe has been helping fill Manurewa's bellies she's seen an explosion in the numbers of people sleeping rough, she says.

Debbie Munroe with some of her food parcels for the rough sleepers of Manurewa.

Debbie Munroe with some of her food parcels for the rough sleepers of Manurewa. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

Three nights a week, the grandmother-of-seven hands food out to people living on the streets of South Auckland.

Ms Munroe gets called nana, aunty, sometimes even mum - though she chuckles at the thought of that.

She said she was seeing homelessness and poverty getting worse, so she had encouraged the people she fed to get out, vote and have their say.

When she started four years ago, she was feeding on average five homeless people a night. Now, she sees up to 35.

"You meet these guys and you fall in love with them and you want to help, just to see them eat and smile," Ms Munroe said.

The food is donated and Ms Munroe's home is filled with made-up food parcels.

"We've got a builder, we've got somebody who does computers, we've got a lady who was in a car accident and lost her family, we've got people who've fallen through the system."

She knows life isn't easy on the streets of Manurewa.

While RNZ was out with her one night, a man drove up to the curb and started yelling abuse at his 12-year-old daughter who was eating the food she had put out.

Without flinching, Ms Munroe took down the number plate and informed the police.

She had dealt with things like this before.

"That young girl turned up at my house today, ran away from home, told me that her dad beat [her]. Which means she'll now go home and he'll beat the shit out of her."

It wasn't pretty, said Ms Munroe, but this was her community she was caring for.

Debbie Munroe on the streets of Manrewa.

Debbie Munroe on the streets of Manrewa. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

In turn, she also encouraged her community to look out for each other.

"We've got maybe five or six in [Housing New Zealand] motels, and they let everyone [else] come [join them there].

"If they get caught, everyone loses out. But they're doing the most natural thing, taking them in and getting them off the street at night ... and they get penalised for it.

"I know some of them have lost their benefits for helping people. How does that happen?"

Ms Munroe said things needed to change, and she had been encouraging people to vote.

"Trying to talk to them about voting, they say 'oh I don't want to bloody vote', but I say, we need your vote.

"We need a change."

She pointed to the people eating food out of the boxes she placed on the street.

"[The government] still sits there and says there's no such thing as homelessness. Well, there is."

Ms Munroe said she had been asked to leave by local businesses who thought she was encouraging homelessness. She had also been threatened and yelled at, and after also attending countless community meetings she said she is tired.

She won't give up, though, she said.

"And if somebody said to me four years ago I'd still be doing this I'd say 'whatever'.

"But the more barriers we come across makes me more stubborn. I won't quit.

"We're here. Even if there's only one homeless person, we will still come down and we will still feed them."

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