Homeless told there's no emergency accommodation available

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 5 April 2019

Work and Income staff are turning away homeless people in Auckland, telling them there is no emergency housing available, multiple sources say.

Homeless elderly woman sleeping rough in a park curled up against the cold autumn weather on a rustic wooden bench

Photo: 123RF

Checkpoint has learnt of several cases over the last month where two Auckland Work and Income offices have been accused of telling people seeking emergency accommodation that there was none.

In some cases they had been provided a list of non-government emergency housing providers, but in at least one case they were given no alternative.

Talia, who only wants to be known by her first name, was sharing one room with her four children for four months while her husband slept in the car.

After being given one months' notice she started searching for private rental, applying for dozens of properties. She said her bad credit history put her at a disadvantage when applying hundreds of others searching for a home.

With two days left until they had to move out, Talia visited the Ōtara Work and Income office last week to ask for help with emergency accommodation.

"They couldn't help me. They just told me that all of the emergency housing is full, so they couldn't do anything."

She said she was offered no alternative.

"I hadn't even gone out the door and I was already crying. And she saw, I started tearing up, but still nothing.

"I didn't even get any feeling sorry for me or anything from her."

Talia, who works full time on minimum wage, was able to afford a motel for two nights for her husband and herself, while the children stayed with family.

Guided by a homeless worker she visited a different Work and Income office on Monday, which helped her secure accommodation from Tuesday night, but nothing for Monday. The couple ended up sleeping in the car.

An Auckland non-government emergency housing provider said Talia's case is one of about 10 they had come across in the last month, where people were told by staff at Work and Income's Ōtara and Ōtāhuhu branches that there was no emergency housing.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Ricardo Mendendez March said the problem was not specific to just two offices - he knew of similar stories throughout Auckland.

Mr Menendez March said people needed real options and not just send them out into the cold night.

"While we understand [Work and Income] case managers don't have control over motel availability, we do expect they would be taking additional steps to ensure they don't leave a person homeless and without adequate shelter."

Mr Menendez March said it was not sustainable for the government to keep using motels for the bulk of its emergency housing.

"What we're experiencing on the ground should be a call for central government to ramp up the build of state homes and social housing as well as looking for state-run temporary accommodation, such as shelters or … rather than relying on the moteliers."

Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mark Goldsmith said in a statement that emergency housing was not always available in Ōtara and Ōtāhuhu but was in the wider Auckland area.

"We've talked to our staff and can't find an instance of clients being told there's no emergency housing in the wider Auckland area."

He said staff did not turn anyone away and always did their "very best" to help people with urgent housing needs.

He encouraged anyone who felt they had not received adequate support to contact MSD.

The social housing wait list more than doubled in the past two years, to more than 10,000.

Mr Menendez March said many of those waiting needed emergency housing in the meantime.