'It's my way of saying thank you' - Auckland's ex-homeless pitching in at the City Mission

Kevan Gill was given a roof over his head through the Auckland City Mission after a year of rough sleeping, but says their greatest help was talking about his troubles with dignity.

To repay them, Kevan gave the one thing he says he has - his time.

He volunteered at their Hobson St base everyday that was required during the mission's Christmas drive, doing whatever his body would allow following a crippling work injury over 20 years ago.

"This is my way of saying thank you to the mission for helping me when I was out there," Kevan says.

"It's my way of giving back, I can't afford donation or anything like that, apart from donate my time, you know, help out.

Kevan is one of a handful of people so grateful for the aid the Auckland City Mission personally gave them over the years, and insisted on volunteering over Christmas.

And the sense of gratitude is strong.

"Government departments look at you, and they're just going through the pace, you know they're going through the motions, whereas the staff here, the social workers here, they listen and they know the avenues to take and to help you go down that path.

"They've seen it, we're not here to bleat and moan, and get this and that out of any government department. Just what we're entitled to and a better way of life you know.

"That's what we strive for and the mission just keeps your momentum up there, or self-esteem, keeps it up there, they don't drop you like I feel a government department does, they sort of lower your self-esteem, whereas the mission keeps you up there mate, keeps you full of spirits eh, that's the only way I can see it."

And with demand for the Auckland City Mission this past Christmas at a record high, Kevan's own story is one many fellow recipients could relate to.

He found himself homeless for the first time at the age of 53.

Following a protracted legal case in 2014, during which he was placed in remand for five months, Kevan lost the Housing NZ accommodation he had held for decades.

A fall at sea on a deep sea trawler in 1991 left him with a serious back injury, and having suffered two prolapses, he has been practically unable to work ever since.

Doctors could not sign him off to either go back to sea, or to drive a truck for which he was also qualified.

Kevan was found not guilty on all charges from his 2014 court case, but the relief was short lived, as he immediately found himself on the street with few options.

"Found not guilty and then out on the streets, because I had nowhere to go to," Kevan says.

"I've always been a loner sort of thing, I don't run to family.

"I've got a mother that's not too healthy. The lawyers tried ringing for 45 minutes for emergency housing and they couldn't get anywhere."

The next 12 months for Kevan, from October 2014, were spent rough sleeping in Auckland CBD.

The experience was not something he ever got used to.

"Oh round the courthouse, anywhere sort of out of public, I was always up before the buses came, moved on. I just didn't like to get in the public's way," Kevan says.

"It's not out of sight, out of mind sort of thing it's just 'I'm here but I don't need to advertise I'm here', you get what I mean.

"It's different, I've never, how can I put it, it's a lot different from camping, put it that way, I used to enjoy camping."

But the greatest trial was not having a place where his family could visit him.

"I could sleep under a tree of whatever mate, but the hardest thing was not having a place where your children could come, you know, 'come visit dad'," Kevan says.

"My children are a big part of my life, and I want them to come see me whenever they want to visit me. But when your on the street it's quite hard to do that."

Having moved into a one bedroom apartment in October 2015 in City Rd, central Auckland, Kevan attributes his reprieve off the street to new Housing NZ accommodation directly to the persistence of social workers at the Auckland City Mission.

"Yes, they were keeping on the phone to Housing NZ," Kevan says.

"I got rehoused, got given an apartment, but that was social workers at the mission helping me and all that, and they're brilliant, they do a lot.

"It was brilliant mate, I had a place where my daughter could come see me and my son, my door is always open to them.

Auckland City Mission team leader of fundraising Alexis Sawyers says the commitment of Kevan and the other housing recipients to the mission Christmas appeal is touching.

"They're the first ones to get here and they're the last ones to leave," Alexis says.

"There's a couple of them that get here at like 6.30am and leave at 8.00pm. The mission is their whanau, that's how it is, and that's why our homeless services run every day of the year regardless of what we're doing.

"But people who do get housed do give back how they can and I think it's just really lovely."

Despite the mission's Christmas appeal being over for another year, the need for resources and funds does not stop, and people are still free to donate at any time through their website here.

Having experienced it first hand, Kevan doesn't hold back in his concern for the state of Auckland's homeless going forward.

"It is hard times, what you see out the front, they're not just homeless, it's just hard times mate," he says.

"I think are we becoming a third world country or something, it's the only way I can think of it, I've never seen so many people in need in my life mate.

"The only way to describe it as a New Zealander is it's sad. What's going to happen five, 10 years down the track?

"Because all I've heard over the years is talk, talk, talk."

Kevan Gill was rough sleeping for 12 months before the Auckland City Mission stepped in, and to repay them he’s volunteered over Christmas. Source: 1 NEWS

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