our work in nz

"Why Is It Mainly Maori Who Are Homeless?"

19 year old Lyric Brooklyn has spent time living on the streets since his early teens. He talks about the challenges of being young and homeless in Wellington.

I got off home detention a couple of months ago. Ever since then I’ve been sleeping on the streets most nights. My mum is in jail and there’s nowhere else to go.

It’s quite embarrassing to admit but mum was heavily addicted to meth and worked as a prostitute. Even before she got locked up, I would spend nights on the streets, on and off. Sometimes I would come home and she would say, “oh there’s food in the fridge boy, eat whatever you want.” The next day she might kick us out.

My brother and I would know to just go away. Sometimes you would come back and she would be high and everything would be alright. If you came back too early, and she wasn’t on her buzz, then there would be trouble.

The first time I spent a night on the streets was when I was 12 years old. I got kicked out of the house and was walking around the park feeling sad, wondering where I was going to sleep. I ended up sleeping behind a church, arms inside my jersey to try and keep warm.

The confusing part is I have two mums. I grew up with my step mum from the ages of eight to twelve. She was Maori and even though I wasn’t her biological child, she looked after me. I was the white brother on the marae with all the Maori kids.

Why is it mainly Maori who are homeless? I think there are problems that go back generations, eight or nine generations. All their land has been sold and it’s because of the government.

I get bad insomnia and sometimes I can’t sleep for days and days. It’s pretty hard when you’re homeless. If you lose your blanket or your blanket gets wet—that’s a catastrophe. You might sit inside McDonald’s and they’ll tell you to leave. “You can’t sleep here, mate”.

I’m not a criminal. I don’t break into abandoned buildings or anything like that. Sometimes people will ask you to do things for them or steal things for them in exchange for money. You need to have a way of haggling with people.

The older homeless will have meetings to talk about problems on the streets. Sometimes there might be a group of younger homeless guys harassing one of the old guard and word quickly gets round. They’ll run that person off the streets. You can get kicked out of your home, but imagine getting kicked off the streets as well.

I love music and I like to listen to everything. I could listen to opera or elevator music; it doesn’t really matter as long as the music is good. I like to write my own raps and write them about how I’m feeling at the time. It’s just something I enjoy doing for a hobby, but I don’t see it leading anywhere.

The worst part about being homeless is the lack of privacy. You get up in the night and need to go to the toilet; the moment you stand up you’re in public. People stare as you walk past, tell you that you look rough or tired.

Whether the streets are safe or not really depends on the night here in Wellington. Some nights there are heaps of drunk people out and about, especially when there are massive sporting events. Some drunk people are fine but then others can be really aggressive.

The really young kids on the streets are the ones we worry about. If I ever see something, I’ll help them out or at least try to help them. Sometimes these kids are like fourteen or fifteen years old and living out on the streets. Where is your mum? Where is your dad? Go home, go back to your parents.

As told to Caroline Goes, Joyce Chen & Tashima Richter in collaboration with UNICEF NZ.