DON SCOTT/Fairfax NZ
OUT OF THE ELEMENTS: Michael sets up for another cold night in a red-zoned Aranui house.
The 31-year-old man, who wanted to be known only as Michael, said his experience of homelessness gave him the insight to advise others in a similar position.After nine months living in a tent in a burnt-out, red-zoned home, a Christchurch man believes those facing homelessness should become squatters rather than live in a car.
For almost a year he lived in an earthquake-damaged Aranui house that had been gutted by fire and had no power, no running water, no electricity, no Gib on the walls, no carpet and no back door.
He used an old piece of carpet to partition off his living area, pitched a tent in the corner and had a row of tinned food lined up along the fireplace.
The owner had given him permission to squat in the abandoned house to discourage vandals and arsonists targeting it at night.
"It has come down to the choice of squatting or living in your car for a lot of people," he said. "But if you are sleeping in your car, I would advise you to do the same."
Reports of squatters in the red zone was nothing new to Senior Sergeant Roy Appley, of New Brighton police.
"In the last month I've had in the vicinity of 20 reports of houses being illegally occupied in the residential red zone," he said.
Appley was not convinced there was an "epidemic" of squatters, but he was fielding about two reports a week.
"I investigate each report but am yet to find evidence of a person actually currently living there," he said.
Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples this week advised Christchurch car and garage sleepers to squat in abandoned red-zone homes rather than suffer through winter, and his comments had "concerned" Appley.
"That advice is unsafe and also unlawful," he said.
"People would be no better in an abandoned red-zone home if it got to that stage anyway because they wouldn't have any electricity and wouldn't be any warmer. There is nothing to be gained from that."
Michael disagreed. The unemployment beneficiary and father of two moved into a garage last month to be closer to his children, but said if he faced homelessness again he would "definitely squat over living in a car".
"If the garage becomes unavailable I'll look for an abandoned place," he said.
"There are a lot out there that actually have walls, Gib, insulation and carpet – empty homes that protect you from the outside elements."
Michael, who has a string of convictions, said he had faced homelessness several times, and he advised potential squatters to keep the houses clean and to seek permission from owners.
Squatting comes with a potential maximum penalty of three months imprisonment or a $2000 fine.
If people are facing homelessness they have been advised to contact the police, welfare agencies or the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.