25 April 2014

He left an impression

18/01/2012 9:43:00 a.m.

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Final farewell: A man scrawls a tribute to Blanket Man.

Final farewell: A man scrawls a tribute to Blanket Man.

MAYBE it’s because they used to stop to say hello, to offer a burger or a drink, or perhaps because of niggling guilt that they used to walk past without a second glance – either way Wellingtonians have been this week gathering at a makeshift memorial outside Burger King on Courtenay Place to pay their last respects to Ben Hana, a man who for years braved the weather to lie on the pavement wearing a loin cloth and with only a blanket for company, becoming ‘Blanket Man’ in the process.
“I was very sad and shocked to hear about it,” says Teng Zhang, who has been documenting crowds at the site with his camera since Sunday evening, “He was a nice guy, friendly to everybody. I never stopped to talk to him but I was going to.”
Another man visiting the memorial site, who did not wish to be named, says he knew Hana personally and saw him looking unwell at Wellington Hospital where he was attending a three-monthly checkup scheduled by authorities.
“He said to me, ‘it won’t be long now until I go’. He used to look out for me and give me things. He was generous and kind to me,” said the man, who also says he will miss stopping to talk to Hana, who would lie listening to his favourite music, rock and reggae, and waving and nodding to passersby.
Hana’s death is believed to be a result of heavy alcohol use, as well as malnutrition from the tough life he led on the street. Clues to his lifestyle can be seen in the gifts that have been left at the memorial site: cigarettes, alcohol, Burger King and Chinese takeaways and a sleeping bag nestled between the flowers and candles.
Nico Grobler, stopping to have a cigarette next to the memorial on Monday afternoon, believes that authorities should have been stricter with Blanket Man, who has appeared in court numerous times and been admitted to psychiatric care since arriving in Wellington in the late 1990s.
“In some way Wellington failed him. Maybe this was avoidable,” says Grobler, “But his lifestyle got too much after a while.”
From the contemplative mood at the memorial site it appears the man with the blanket has left an impression on Wellingtonians. Reports say there will be a private funeral as well as a public one for locals to pay their last respects and Hana’s family has accepted an offer from Wellington philanthropist Gareth Morgan to pay for funeral costs.
Scribbled on the memorial wall: “You will be missed Ben Hana. Forever on this corner.”
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