Community support turns homeless man’s life around

Community support is helping turn a homeless man’s life around. All it took was one man who put out a call and help came from all directions.

The former rough sleeper’s name is Richard (pictured with some supporters including Nick Smith – right). Until recently, Richard was living in a tent on the outskirts of Nelson.

His life turned around a couple of months ago when Smith found him sheltering outside his office in the rain. When he found out Richard was homeless, he went door knocking.

He didn’t stop until he found a motel Richard could stay at.

It’s great, but the same “normal” life takes some getting used to, says the former rough sleeper.

“When I lived in the forest I had no contact with people. I have found it hard to be with people after spending so long alone.”

But with a community behind him, the 71-year-old is sticking with it, one day at a time.

Smith is still looking out for Richard too.

Once he’d found somewhere for him to live, Smith started a Givealittle page.

Stuff news media website picked up Richard’s story. Donations and offers of help flooded in.

One reader offered to pay for  his hearing aids and dentures. Another sent him a spare pair of hearing aids. Others sent cards and clothing.

Smith found that people want to help.  He made phone calls and people opened their hearts.

The story reached Kiwi Journeys director Andrew Schwass. He arranged a new e-bike for Richard at cost, through Electrify NZ.

The bike will be in constant use as  Richard walks and bikes everywhere. That includes 7.5-kilometre trips between Nelson and Richmond.

“It’s good to help someone out,” Schwass says.

A dentist, Justin Kabir, offered to fix Richard’s teeth. He’ll be doing as much as possible free of charge.

“There’s an element of giving back to the community, but dentists are also healthcare professionals,” Kabir says. “When you come out of dentist school your aim is to help people. It’s nice to be able to do that for Richard.”

Richard is grateful for everything, although the last few weeks have been a little overwhelming, he says.

“I’ve always been self-sufficient and I’ve always been shy and quiet. A couple of times everything got too much and I wanted to run away.”

He likes the comfort and stability of a motel room though. If he starts feeling stressed he gets out on his bike or takes a walk.

Richard is optimistic about the next few months. He and Smith are looking for a rental property where he can settle. Then he plans to take up a hobby and perhaps get back into gardening.

“I want things to get better, to get out a bit and meet people.”

His biggest dream is to go to Wellington for the World of Wearable Art show.

“I’d really like to see the show and I’ve never been to Wellington,” Richard says.


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