Wellington Scoop

The death of Blanket Man, and the treatment of homeless people

Opinion by Pat Brittenden
If society can be judged by how we treat the least, then the death of ‘Blanket Man’ tells us we suck.

Ghandi is credited with saying it first in a modern context, or at least an unknown variant of it, but the bible is probably one of the first places you can look to a way of being judged by how we treat the dregs of society.

Jesus was speaking to two groups of people. One he was ‘thanking’ for looking after him and one he chastised for ignoring him.

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

The people were confused. They asked Jesus when they ever ignored or rejected him. He replied,

‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

Maybe a modern translation would be when you ‘ignore’ a Blanket Man, you ‘ignore’ anyone in need.

I heard a radio interview with Maxine Dixon this morning. Dixon was the lawyer of Ben Hana, a.k.a. ‘Blanket Man’. She knew him better than most.

The interviewer made the statement, “Some people thought he was brilliant, other people thought he was a pain.“ Dixon stumbled over her words upon hearing the ‘brilliant‘ tag and responded by saying, ”He was an intelligent man…I don’t know if he was brilliant.“

For the interviewer to have so little understanding of what this homeless man, and other homeless people around the country, go though to describe him so flippantly as ‘brilliant‘ showed the gap between the haves and haves not and the disconnect that comes with money and privilege. This man should never be described as ‘brilliant‘. What he was was a sad indictment on our society, a tangible example of how we could care less about these kinds of people.

After being asked how Hana came to live like this, Dixon responded by telling of how he moved to Wellington from Tokoroa, where he lived in his car. After the move he was homeless because ”he could not afford both accommodation, food and his beloved [cannabis].” She went on to say that this man’s disposable income was about $60 a week.

The death of ‘Blanket Man’ and the media may-lay is disgusting. This is an example of how we suck as human beings and how when push comes to shove we really don’t care about our fellow human being.

‘Blanket Man’ was a drug addict whose habit was large enough to keep him living on the streets…and he died from what appears to be malnutrition and exposure…how the hell can we flippantly laugh at cute little anecdotes about this man?

To be fair the interviewer in question probably has never knowingly spoken to a homeless person, and never sat under a bridge and spoken with one. So he cannot relate to this story…it’s a good yarn and filled a total of 2 mins and 38 seconds of the breakfast show I listened to today. Ben Hana’s life was worth 2 minutes and 38 seconds of ‘entertaining’ radio giving everyone a chuckle. It should have made you cry.

I don’t care what you think about the bible, but there is some pretty good advice there about how we treat homeless people. Here’s the challenge, next time you see someone sitting on the kerb outside a shop in your town or city. Buy them a pie, maybe even two. Buy them some milk…even a fizzy drink. If you really want to help contact an agency to come and check up on them…that’s their job. Do it, you’ll find it more rewarding than the person who receives the pie and drink. Feed, clothe and house those that cannot feed, clothe and house themselves.

Diane Robertson from Auckland City Mission gave me some frightening statistics. Within 3kms of Auckland’s Sky Tower they estimate there are 100 people ‘sleeping rough‘, of those 100 people 2-4 die every year, normally in hospital having their lives shortened by the way they live and that’s just Auckland Central. Blanket Man is not alone in his sad demise.

Robertson was “sad that a homeless person is an icon of Wellington.” That sat me back. All these people online today saying, “We’ll miss you Blanket Man” I’d ask where the hell were you in the middle of winter when he actually needed you. What about all the other ‘Blanket Men’ out there that you notice, the ones that don’t…and won’t get 2 minutes and 38 seconds of nationwide exposure on a breakfast radio show…what about them?

I’d rather hear ‘we will help you Blanket Man‘ any day as opposed to people now missing this sad story of a man that helped us see the worst of ourselves.

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz
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  1. thomas, 16. January 2012, 21:45

    Judge not….

  2. Mike, 17. January 2012, 11:36

    Aye, and where were you during all this, Pat?

    Good view from that high horse?

  3. Curtis Nixon, 17. January 2012, 20:09

    What concerns me about Blanket Man’s death is the apparent effects forced medication by psychiatric services had on his health. I believe he was injected with anti-psychotics on the day he died; I noticed since his release from his forced stay in Ward 27 he was laying around more, something I never saw before. i believe giving anti-psychotic medication to drug and alcohol users is dangerous but the medical model carries on regardless . . .

  4. The City is Ours, 21. January 2012, 1:48

    In 2009 both WCC and Capital Coast District Health Board committed funding to a permanent wet house for chronic alcoholics who were homeless…………..