Wellington woman Regina Tito can still recall the night that family violence forced her out of her house and on to the streets aged 11.
That night she made the roof of Epuni railway station in Lower Hutt her home.
Tito, who is 42 and now works for Downtown Community Ministry (DCM), spent her teenage years sleeping rough on Wellington’s streets.
Her experiences are the subject of short film Street Smart part of Loading Doc’s films that will be released on TVNZ On Demand on August 4.
Tito spent her childhood in the Child, Youth and Family system before being reunited with her mother.
Extreme levels of domestic violence, abuse and alcoholism at home made her take to the streets.
“At that time the streets were a lot safer.
“I saw a lot of violence, my mum was beaten to a pulp many many times so I saw a lot of abuse towards her.”
She remembers a cycle of sleeping rough, on the run from police or in prison.
Her feelings at the time were dominated by fear, hunger, cold and ultimately uncertainty.
“Really just not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring.”
Many of the places Tito slept in her teens are still spots for the homeless today.
Oriental Bay parade toilets, Pigeon Park toilets and Lukes Lane are some of the places she grew to know well.
She said sleeping on the floor of the toilets, hugging the bowl was preferable to sleeping in stairwells of old buildings.
“If you had a high end of rough sleeping, stairwells wouldn’t be at the top.”
In the toilet “it is warm, and you can lock the doors, so that’s safety”.
Even after she escaped the cycle of street living in her teens, she still faced another decade of housing insecurity, being evicted from homes, this time with children in tow.
Tito is careful to point out that the definition of homelessness is often limited to people sleeping on the streets when in fact it includes a much wider population of people sleeping on couches, in cars and garages or constantly facing evictions or in prison.
Through her work at DCM Tito now works with the Wellington homeless community and has a unique insight into what they are experiencing.
“I always believe there is hope,” Tito said.
“The assumption that none of them are ever going to make it that’s a flat lie… there is me and many others who have come through homelessness.”
Director of Street Smart, Leigh Minarapa hopes the film will make people think about how they interact with those living on the city’s street.
“We wanted to bring to attention [to] simple things, like acknowledging homeless people can really go a long way. Looking at them on the streets, or eye contact or saying ‘hi’ those small things can actually make a big difference in their lives.”
* Loading Doc Films 2016 will be available on TVNZ On Demand from 9pm on the August 4.
– The Wellingtonian