"....the German backpackers incident will allow Roger Sutton and CERA to continue their war against the impoverished homeless forced to squat because, through no fault of their own, they have nowhere else to go."
The story made the six o'clock news bulletins on both TVNZ and TV3 and has been all over the newspapers and the internet.
This morning I heard Chris Lynch of Newstalk ZB berating the behaviour of the three German backpackers. He wanted to know what his listeners thought about it. Strangely, there was zero support for the backpackers concerned. That was possibly because they had pitched a tent in the living room and had been using one of the bedrooms as an open toilet.
This story emerged out of the offices of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority. It helpfully released a video of the three backpackers in the house. None of them, I think, are likely to be featured in Homes and Gardens magazine anytime soon.
But the story was uncritically swallowed by the corporate media.
While this story might of allowed Chris Lynch and his talkback callers to indulge in some moral indignation, it makes little sense until we put it into context. And that context is a city where rents have risen some thirty-five percent since the big quake and there are over 7000 people who are now classified as homeless.
It was only just some four months ago, in November, that Christchurch City Missioner Michael Gorman told the media that the housing crisis in Christchurch was so severe squatting in red-zoned houses was not unusual for the homeless - and that he was aware of families who were moving into abandoned houses.
He outlined a case where a mother with two teenagers was squatting in a red-zoned house because she could not afford the high rents demanded by landlords.
CERA's response to this social desperation has been simply to turf out the squatters whenever the security patrols find them.
In a media 'launch' for the video CERA boss Roger Sutton commented that the incident involving the German backpackers was 'among a raft of issues keeping CERA staff busy monitoring Christchurch's residential red zone.'
Presumably desperate people and families needing somewhere to live is one of 'the raft of issues' that keeps CERA staff 'busy'.
Strangely, CERA haven't been at all keen about releasing any video of people living in cars, in garages, in overcrowded conditions.
How nice of Sutton to lump homeless people in with German backpackers who poo in the empty rooms of abandoned homes. But according to jolly Roger, squatting is merely a 'transitional problem' that will supposedly 'improve as more life returns to the CBD and vacant homes are demolished.' That is what he said in December.
Given that the government's own advisors have told it that Christchurch's housing crisis will only get worse in 2014 one wonders how long Sutton's 'transitional problem' is likely to continue.
But the German backpackers incident will allow Roger Sutton and CERA to continue their war against the impoverished homeless forced to squat because, through no fault of their own, they have nowhere else to go.