This week’s Listener carries an account of three weeks I spent in a cold, dirty boarding house in Wellington, researching the lives of people who have ended up at the bottom of the inequality spectrum, and how they are treated.
It was an eye-opening experience, and I urge everyone to read the piece, out tomorrow (Friday 5 October).
It’s also an experience I will never forget, thanks in part to the rug in the photograph below. It was a present to me by one of the other residents in the boarding house, given in an attempt to make my room look more cheerful. He gave it even though he had very little himself, and at the same time as the boarding house’s landlord was cheerfully maintaining me in a damp, foul-smelling room.
When I left the boarding house, its original owner wouldn’t take it back, despite repeated offers, so I brought it back to my flat and, after giving it a good clean, have installed it as pride of place in our living room.
And so it sits there, serving as a permanent reminder of the generosity of those who have very little, and of the relative comfort in which the rest of us live.
(NB: Attentive readers may have realised that someone living in a boarding house is not ‘homeless’, as the term is normally understood. But I am using the Statistics New Zealand official definition of homelessness, which includes anyone living in temporary accommodation, including boarding houses.)