Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

If you can talk with crowds... or walk with Kings...

Me speaking during the opening. "You are here because you believe we belong together in the journey of life."
Part of the crowd gathered for the opening.
The MC (A city councillor) introduced me by saying; "Chairman of the Night Shelter Trust and all round legend." (A bit over the top)
Me with one of the visiting fire crews.
Matt one of the student organisers. We threw cheek at one another during the whole event.
Part of the crowd watching the entertainment.
Some actually slept out.
The Cathedral and the town hall.
The Sleep-out experience again...Photos.

Last post I told you about our sleep-out in the centre of town. I "slept out" with 200 students to raise funds and awareness for the Night Shelter. It was a great experience and the student organisers did so well. So far $11,177 has been raised.
As I have still basked in the experience I got to thinking about the conversations and interactions I had. Here are a few..
  • I helped set up with the students. Here were young men and women about one third my age setting up the area, and I was working with them. They were giving me cheek and I was returning it. We were enjoying each other's company, and that continued through to the clean up next day. 
  • During the set up and during the evening people from our old drop-in centre called by. Some had mental or intellectual disabilities and were inappropriate in the things they said. A couple were at various stages of intoxication and/or spaced out on weed. Others were the poor vulnerable members of our society. They greeted me warmly. Some just hung around, got free food and sometimes assisted me with things. 
  • During the night the Ambulance guys on duty called in and stayed around conversing. Then there were fire crews who called in and checked us all out.
  • The university chaplain visited, I have known him a long time. A catholic Priest I have known for perhaps 26 years who also does chaplaincy at the University called in and chatted. Some members of my old congregation called in and we caught up.  My counsellor/supervisor came with a bag of sweets and chocolates and gave me a hug. 
  • The national co-leader of the Green Party was there. I chatted frequently and warmly with the local member of parliament. City councillors were there and warmly conversed with me. The city mayor was there for a while and at one stage I was wanting to attract his attention and I simply called out, "Dave!" He turned and we chatted warmly. We had a few conversations just like two friends do, chatting with ease. 
During the night I shared with the high flyers of our society, the religious, the young, the emergency workers, and the lowly vulnerable members at the bottom of the heap. As I have thought about the experience and relived it through photographs, I could not help but recall lines from a Rudyard Kipling poem that my father liked; 
"If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
or walk with kings - nor lose your common touch.
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much,
........ you'll be a man my son."  

My dad fulfilled those lines in the way he related to people across the board. I guess I experienced a part of that over Friday evening. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sleeping out.

The logo the students used for the sleep-out.
Often Dunedin students are stereotyped as hard drinking and irresponsible. It was great seeing various groups just enjoying time together, conversing, playing games and sometimes singing. No alcohol in sight.
I took this at about 3:30 a.m.  Most people hunkered down to sleep. 
It was great that no strong wind was blowing... still chilly to sleep though.

This is a Radio New Zealand photo of me with David Clark the Dunedin North Member of Parliament.  This was at lunch time on Friday. We both had busy afternoons and changed into much warmer layers of clothing by the time the sleep-out opened. I enjoy his company. 
The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust is working hard to raise enough money to purchase the buildings it currently rents. We need $595,000 and so far have raise around $380,000. We are going public now to the people of Dunedin seeking donations to get us over the line. We have a few Trusts to apply to, but will be relying on the generosity of Dunedin people. The momentum is happening. We are receiving assistance from the local newspapers, some local rich folk are helping us to reach other rich folk and local community leaders are lending their support.

There is a volunteer centre at the Otago University and it is run by a vivacious, articulate and energetic young woman. She took it upon herself to work with us to create a much bigger, higher impact sleep out to raise awareness of the issue and to raise money. She brought together a group of keen university students and we have had 200 people sleeping out in the Octagon, the centre of Dunedin City.  July in Dunedin is the coldest winter month. This year has been a very cold winter so it made the prospect of sleeping out in the centre of town a scary thought. Four of us, two trustees, the local member of parliament and another visitor slept out last year and I can tell you it was freezing, and that was in April. 

This group of students were absolutely amazing. I sat in on their committee meetings and did a little bit of negotiating with the local city council staff and the Cathedral in the centre of the city. The cathedral was only too happy to loan us the use of their kitchen and their toilets. The council staff agreed to us using the Octagon area. When I had a meeting with the Mayor he said he would shout us two "portaloos". (Temporary toilet facilities)  When his staff followed up on that the Portaloo company gave us four at no charge to us or the mayor.  The students in their organising received quite a lot of support from businesses in town.  

So I spent Friday night in the centre of town sleeping out with two hundred students, the local Labour party Member of Parliament, the co-leader of the NZ Green party, two city councillors and my good friend John who is a fellow Night Shelter Trustee.  Buskers, mainly students from the University music department came to entertain, and a magician gave us a great routine.  They had a sleeping bag race, a cardboard shelter building competition and first thing in the morning, Zumba to wake everyone up. Compared to last year it was not as cold and was simply a lot of fun. I helped with the setting up and the cleaning up. It was great mixing with these young people and made me feel younger.  We were interviewed by the local Newspaper, the local TV came and the National Radio program interviewed us and inserted us into their program.  I was also thrilled because members of my chaplaincies visited during the evening. Two Fire engines from the central station paid a visit with some of them giving a donation. They were very warm and affirming. The on duty ambulance crews visited us and between calls spent time there chatting. It was great to have their support. I got an hour or two of questionable sleep, but the sleep deprivation, the friendship and conversation was well worth it. So far the amount raised is in excess of $7000. As well as this the Lions Club from Port Chalmers where we live visited and handed over a $1000 cheque. The mayor opened proceedings and it was noticeable that he said "WE will get there. We will have a night shelter." That is the feel we are getting particularly through this sleep-out. Dunedin City is starting to "own" the Night Shelter cause. Dunedin is starting to take responsibility to help us as a trust to own these buildings. The Students had as their theme, "DunedinhelpingDunedin."  We have our street appeal happening this coming week. We are picking up that theme as well. We will be standing at supermarkets and street corners holding buckets hoping for donations. It is a very busy time, but as my friend John says, "We can see light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not a train coming the other way."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Signposts and weathercocks.

I have been reading up about Tony Benn a UK politician from the past. He was mentioned in a Facebook post and that prompted me to go searching for more. The more I read the more I like him. He said; “I admire anyone who speaks their mind whatever their party and divide politicians of all parties into two categories: the signposts who point the way they think we should go and the weathercocks who haven’t got an opinion, until they’ve studied the polls, focus groups and spin doctors. I have no time for weathercocks and prefer signposts even if I think they point in the wrong direction.” Tony Benn

Where have all the "signposts" gone? Politically in our country there seems to be few "signposts". Russell Norman of the Green Party was one but he moved out of politics. I thought David Shearer was one in the Labour party, though thoughtful and quietly spoken. But his leadership position was taken over by a "weathercock" in David Cunliffe.  Sufficient to say among our politicians there seem few truly principled people. Most act like wishy washy teenagers on the playground, following what ever they think is popular, and sometimes bullying like teenagers too.

The media with their superficial treatment of what is often superficial stuff encourage us to be "weathercock" people, following whatever is popular. 
But it is hard being a "signpost".  I have during my life been a bit of a shaky signpost, in my better moments having the courage to try standing up for truths I hold dear. It is lonely. It is not always popular. You do not "fit in" easily. 

I find I too easily take the cowardly option of retreating into silence, bottling up my unease with what is going on about me. That is not good either. Oh to be a true signpost! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On TV again!

These days when I go to my chaplaincies, or walk down the street or even at Church on Sundays people tease me about being "in the paper again!" - "Brown you're in the paper again!!" Because of my Night Shelter involvement and our campaign, there are frequent photos of me and quotes from me in the Newspapers. Sometimes too it can be "You're on TV again!" though not as many people watch the little local TV channel.  Well I was on TV again. I was interviewed briefly on the local news... It is always a bit difficult because it is a three minute quick fire interview and this time I had no detailed questions given me, just some "general topics we'll talk about." Here it is if you want to see it.

We are extremely fortunate at the Night Shelter. We seldom spend money on food. We are given all sorts of things and there seems to be a growing support for our goal to purchase the buildings. We received good news today and expressions of assistance and support. It is like riding a wave of generosity. I read in a theology book last night that "human beings are the language of big 'B', 'Being' - God." I get that feel. Somehow the love, compassion and generosity that is an intrinsic part of being a human being, the God within, is being expressed by all sorts of people toward the work of the shelter. It is nice to be the recipient of such care and concern.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

We NEED to own it!

We are trying to raise money to purchase the Night Shelter buildings in Dunedin and it has been hard and often disappointing work. I wrote this to a friend expressing some of my frustrations;
"Many New Zealand citizens and bean counters do not have a clue that there are hundreds of vulnerable, unemployed, unemployable, people in our city often with mental health issues.  I have worked with them for 27 years. They end up on drugs, alcohol or with gambling addictions because they have no hope.  They live in piss soaked cold boarding houses, with a mattress on the floor, unable to cook a meal for themselves, barely coping and often find themselves out on the street. There is no hope or place for them in our economy. There are no jobs for them, and when they try they just get another experience of rejection.  They are spat out the back of the system.  They are often seen as deserving their predicament and that they bring it on themselves. I suspect when Trustees of money are viewing all the causes before them, (and there is a lot of competition) these folk and their needs are not seen as deserving as others."

I have spent the night writing an article I hope will appear in the local paper advertising our Night Shelter Street Appeal.  I will wait to see if they see it as suitable, but thought I would post it here anyway. It is currently a passion in my life. I want to do everything I can, while I can, so that I can rest easy knowing that there is a permanent Night Shelter in Dunedin.

It is people.
As a minister in an inner-city Church for 27 years I worked among Dunedin’s vulnerable people. For much of that time I found that reliable emergency accommodation in Dunedin was non-existent. I often financed people into back-packers which was not always appropriate. For the last decade the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust has developed a facility offering consistent emergency accommodation every day of the year. We average 54 bed-nights a month last year and during June this year we had guests filling over 100 bed-nights.  A roster mix up recently meant that I as chairman of the Trust had to rush into the shelter to open up an hour later than it usually opens. I found six people, men and women, waiting on a freezing cold night to get into the shelter. As I opened up, turned on the heaters and knew that these shivering people would soon have a hot drink, a meal and a warm bed, I felt good about being part of this service. The statistics above are not just numbers, but people, fellow citizens who have run out of options for all sorts of reasons. A Night Shelter is needed in our community, and with the generosity of many people we are doing that!

The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust is working hard to purchase the buildings it currently rents, so that consistent emergency accommodation will be a certainty in Dunedin for generations to come.  From Tuesday July 28th until Saturday August 1st there will be collectors outside supermarkets and in the streets to give you the opportunity to contribute to this cause. So far through the Shelter lots of Dunedin people are helping Dunedin people at their point of need. People generously give bedding, food, groceries, money, time, skills and even toilet paper to ensure the service operates.  “Dunedin helping Dunedin” can help the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust own this facility for the city.  Ownership will ensure the service stays. Ownership will enable the service to develop. We have $380,000 toward this and are still working on it. We need $600,000. You can help. Donations can be made online via  (http://givealittle.co.nz/org/dnshelter), by direct credit to our bank account (03 0905 0279202 02) or by cheque to PO Box 5906, Moray Place, Dunedin 9058. He aha te mea nui? He tangata. He tangata. He tangata. (Maori proverb)
(What is the most important thing? 
It is people.
It is people
It is people.)

Dave Brown (Chairman Dunedin Night Shelter Trust)"

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Another goodbye...

We went back to my old Church to attend a funeral. It was nerve racking going back. My first time in the doors since I retired, a place of many achievements but also disappointments and frustrations. But we had to go, 
Denys, the man who had died, was a very supportive friend during our time in ministry there. He "got" me, and was great with our drop-in centre folk.
My first real conversation with Denys was in 1971. He was chairman of the board of the local Bible College I had begun my ministry studies at. It was due to shut and go into partnership with the local Presbyterian Ministry training college. I was its last student. But this day I visited his office and told him that I had decided to go to Australia for my ministry training. That is a decision I would never regret. It was in our denomination's world "politically embarrassing" for this student to change his mind. Denys told me off. He said I was talking "tripe", he was disappointed and obviously angry at my decision.  Even when I began ministry at this Church in 1987 Denys told me that he found it hard to trust me because I had made that decision all those years before. It was still a sore point with him. But, in spite of that, we became good friends and he was very supportive of me. He would call at my office and take me for a cup of coffee, or sometimes shout me lunch. He understood that the Church ought to be working beyond its doors, and was truly supportive when I had that emphasis. When we went on holiday he would sometimes slip me an envelope with money in it and say, "Have a meal out on me." He has often slipped me an envelope with a cheque for the NighT Shelter. I had to be there as we farewelled this man. I am pleased he was a part of my life. 
 People were warm toward us today which was nice but they have a new minister now and we must move on. Well lived Denys, you were a thinking man, but best of all you could laugh at yourself. We had a lot of fun conversations and experiences together. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A rant and a rave.

My wife having a cup of tea on top of Flagstaff.
Before with big dents which harmed the windscreen wiper.
After - I fixed the windscreen wipers and the dents I pushed out and patched as best I could. We painted it before Church this morning.
View of Dunedin from the top of flagstaff where we walked this sfternoon.
Personal responsibility..
A few weeks ago there was a young man in the paper in trouble with the police. He had purchased a fire engine and began weekend "Fire Engine Parties". People in streets were upset over the loud speakers, the siren and the drunken behaviour which caused damage to a car.  His off hand comment was something like "Worse things happen at sea!" and "If they don't want us to make a noise they should have decommissioned the siren and loudspeaker. It is their fault." No! Take responsibility, you acted stupidly and thoughtlessly. 
A local mother has been seeking legal revenge on police and prison staff. Her son, a man in his late thirties, was sent to prison but unknown to staff he had concealed drugs within his stomach. He was trying to illegally smuggle them into the prison. It all went wrong and he fell ill and died. Her beef is that he was not monitored closely enough and she claims they inflicted the death penalty on him.  Now maybe there was some slackness in their systems, but ... he was the one who swallowed the drugs, he took the risk, he was trying to deceive and probably did too good a job at it. Ultimately his death was HIS responsibility. As sad as his death was, you cannot blame it on others.
A young teenager went into a store with a mate to rob it. He was brandishing and threatening with a knife. He ended up killing the store keeper and was subsequently charged with murder. He got off with just a manslaughter conviction. The defence was "The shop keeper had grabbed a steel bar so the boy's knife attack was self defence. He had gone in to rob the store but didn't intend to kill anyone." I disagree with the manslaughter conviction. "Manslaughter" to me is if I drive carelessly and kill somebody. It is when somebody dies when I am doing something carelessly, while going about my own business, driving carelessly, building carelessly, working in a dangerous way that caused a death. But going into a store brandishing a knife is intentionally setting up a situation where death is a potential consequence. That act has intentionality about it. The storekeeper died because of the boys actions and intentions. Stop trying to blame the dead storekeeper. The boy was responsible for the death. Take responsibility! I am not looking for revenge. But growth, rehabilitation and true reintegration can only happen where there is that recognition of responsibility. We do not really do the boy any favours by allowing him to avoid responsibility. 
In the magical myth of Adam and Eve in the garden, when God challenged Adam he was quick to respond. He said, "The woman you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." In other words  he was saying "It wasn't my fault! It was yours, God! Or hers!"  We still love to do that when we stuff up. We whine, "It wasn't my fault! It was their's .. his..hers ... anybody else but not mine." We need to learn the skill of 'fessing up, taking responsibility...
The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust that I am chairman of, needs to raise $240,000 in fourteen weeks! This is to top up funds needed to purchase the buildings we currently rent. There have been two stories in the local paper telling the public about our predicament. I do not know whether we will succeed, but I am blown away by the responses so far.  I'll list a few....

  • There is a group of students at the University planning a sleep out in the middle of town, in the coldest part of winter for 200 students! This is a fundraising and awareness raising effort for the Night Shelter.
  • A fellow chaplain in Central Otago sent a generous donation in last weekend.
  • An unknown man gave $500 via paypal. 
  • People are giving continuously on the students and the Night Shelter's "Give a Little" sites.
  • The leaders group of the local chaplains rang me the other day. They are donating a day's pay to our cause and are planning a special effort later in the year. They took me to lunch to talk it over.
  • An unknown couple who run a party entertainment venue emailed me offering us their facility to run a fundraising event for the cause.  
  • An ex-mayor is committing to help us raise the money. 
This week has been like that and I am guessing that in the next three months Dunedin people will have us riding a wave of generosity! One last incident that really moved me....
We attend the local little Presbyterian Church. The people are mostly elderly, but lovely open honest people. This morning there was quite a small congregation. The session clerk was giving the notices prior to the service starting. She opened it up to any others. One lady, a farmer's wife held up a newspaper cutting of the Night Shelter article and the photo within it. "We should do something for the Night Shelter." she said, "David is heavily involved there and he is a valuable member of our church. We should be doing something to help them meet their target." A brief discussion ensued. They have a mid winter meal coming up at which they raise funds. The session clerk suggested that the funds from the meal could go toward the Night Shelter. "Do you want to think about it?" the session clerk asked. "No" said the oldest member of the congregation, "Just do it! Let's do it!" and so it was decided. It was so warm, supportive and affirming. My fellow Church members are with me, supporting us. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

It rang bells!

I got this in a "Workplace Support"  news letter... I like it... I think it is why I always get uneasy about people who prattle on about "doing verses being" and "you have to look after yourself" etc. etc. : 
"The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both." James A. Michener.

The Night Shelter is in the local community paper again today. 

This is board member, John and I outside the Night Shelter buildings the Trust wants to buy. John and I did a one year Community and Social work Certificate course together in 1994. We had a lot of fun as two of three men in a class with about 18 women. We ran together at lunch times, did gym workouts together, class projects and sometimes had quiet drinks at a local pub. We would not have predicted that over 20 years later we would be together on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust still doing projects. He is a property wheeler and dealer and I am a retired minister. He is considerably younger than me.  He is well off, I am content, but considerably poorer than he is. We are very different in many ways, but we work together quite well and I enjoy our continuing link.