People found sleeping on the street within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower had increased since the last count in 2014, from 147 to 177. Photo / Supplied

People found sleeping on the street within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower had increased since the last count in 2014, from 147 to 177. Photo / Supplied

“Sometimes all you see is a blanket and a pair of shoes, so it’s easy to ignore. But it’s important to remember that there’s a person under there.” So says Alexis Sawyers, Fundraising Team Leader at Auckland City Mission, as a powerful 360 degree video is released showing a sobering snapshot of what it’s actually like to be homeless.

The 360-degree video experience highlights the harsh reality of living on the street in an immersive way, using real stories and appearances from people who have experienced time on the street.

The release of the video will kick start the Auckland City Mission’s Winter Appeal. “With the number of people sleeping rough in Central Auckland climbing to record highs, and temperatures dropping to near-freezing at night, the funds raised by Auckland City Mission’s Winter Appeal are more critical than ever,” says Auckland City Missioner, Chris Farrelly.

It’s hoped that the appeal will raise in the order of $300,000.

To view on desktop 360 is best viewed through Chrome or Firefox. Mobile users that have the YouTube app installed please click here to view.

“Homelessness is the outcome of being socially, emotionally and physically isolated from traditional support networks. This isolation is never more evident than when you are rough sleeping. So while homeless people are very visible on the inner-city streets they are usually just viewed as ‘homeless’. Every homeless person has their own story, history, talents and beauty. As a community, we need to see the person, not only define them by their homelessness,” says Farrelly.

The video has been produced by TRACK NZ, DDB and NZME’s Branded Content Lab on behalf of the Auckland City Mission. “There’s a lot of media coverage at the moment about the plight of our city’s homeless and I’m sure people are concerned on an intellectual level,” says TRACK NZ Creative Director, Jeff Harris. “But to really immerse Aucklanders in this issue on a visceral level that’s impossible to ignore, we felt we needed to create a compelling experience that puts the viewer in their shoes.”

The number of people who are toughing it out on the street through the cold winter months is climbing, and the Mission has made it its business to ensure everyone can access critically needed requirements – meals, clothing, footwear, bedding, hygiene products, shelter and, perhaps most importantly, caring human contact.

The Auckland City Mission has 80 full and part-time staff and hundreds more volunteers. It works with over 40 community organisations, touches many people in the city, and has done so since its inception just shy of 100 years ago. Each year it costs more than $5 million to deliver its services, just 10 per cent of which is funded by the Government.

The Auckland City Street Count – a snapshot measure of the homeless on the street in the central city – took place in May, and showed that the number of people found sleeping on the street within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower had increased since the last count in 2014, from 147 to 177.

The number of women sleeping rough had risen from 31 to 45, but had also increased as a percentage of the total homeless – from 21 to 25 per cent. Maori also fared worse, increasing in numbers from 63 to 93, or from 43 to 53 per cent.

The drivers behind people sleeping rough on the street were explored in a recent piece of research on Auckland’s homeless, titled An Insight into the Experience of Sleeping Rough in Central Auckland.

Along with the severe shortage of housing at the moment, the Mission’s clients find themselves homeless for myriad reasons – from dysfunctional homes blighted with drug and alcohol abuse to violence, job loss, eviction, foster home runaways and exiting gangs. The study found that often any kindness from fellow homeless people could be construed as the new ‘family’ and, with nothing to return home for, homeless people often remained so for a long time.

“We get feedback that people ‘choose’ to sleep on the streets, but it isn’t generally a choice but rather a lack of any other options,” says Sawyers.

Along with money, Auckland City Mission also welcomes items such as bedding or footwear, which is always in demand for the homeless. “Many people living on the street have a lot of trouble with their feet – they don’t have suitable footwear to protect them and keep them dry. It’s a really basic, but important need,” Sawyers says.

The Auckland City Mission’s Winter Appeal runs through until mid-August. Donate at winterwarriors.org.nz