28 Mar 2016

Homelessness 'a national problem'

8:00 am on 28 March 2016

A national approach to solving homelessness is needed, says the Auckland Council, with many people living on the streets outside the central city.

no caption

Photo: 123rf.com

The Council's latest efforts to address people sleeping rough will be detailed in a report to a council committee this week.

Cathy Casey, a city councillor and Community Development and Safety Committee chairperson, says homelessness is an increasing problem in the city because of the housing shortage.

The Auckland City Mission found 147 people sleeping rough around the Sky Tower in 2014, up 116 percent on the year before.

Dr Casey said the council was playing its part in combating the problem with funding allocated in its long term plan to support emergency housing and various initiatives and looking at improving public amenities.

"We have limited ratepayers funds, but we're using it wisely to increase opportunities for homeless - obviously to bring them out of homelessness and into a wrap-around service and housing - but also into a job."

But she said the issue was wider than that.

"This is not an Auckland ratepayer problem, it's a taxpayer problem.

"We only ever talk about the homeless in the city centre but homeless people are everywhere and, that being the case, it is a much bigger problem than Auckland's. We need to have a national strategy, we need to have a national target to end homelessness in New Zealand. So it's good that we're doing our part in Auckland and we're inviting the government to help.

As well as a national plan Dr Casey said information on the extent of the problem was not enough.

"We really do need some figures, we need the evidence of homelessness. We need to make sure that we know who is sleeping rough, who is living in cars, who is double bunked, who is sofa surfing. We all know people who do that, but to actually get a handle on the size of the problem is difficult and for that we need the government to help."

A member of the National Coalition to End Homelessness, Wilf Holt, said the number of people living on the street was growing relentlessly and could not be solved by the council alone.

"At the end of the day if we can't provide sufficient affordable good quality accommodation we will always have rough sleepers in the CBD.

"Even if we, for instance, accommodated everybody who was rough sleeping yesterday, by the end of not too long a period of time you've got all of those who are new to the streets or new to homelessness, new to rough sleeping, new to sleeping in their cars, new to sleeping under cars and in doorways. You've got that population starting to grow again."

He said it was more than just a housing issue with services such as health, mental health, drug and alcohol services needing to be brought to bear.

Mr Holt said the council needed to bring together a number of groups including the government to solve the issue.

"One of the things that the Auckland City Council can do is to offer leadership that brings local and national government together. Leadership that brings local government, national government, the NGOs, the people who might fund any initiatives, anyone who might be able to manage it, the services that would need to be bought to bear, once we do get quality affordable accommodation.

"They are in a position to provide, and have done in the past, good quality leadership that brings good solutions to the table with the right people sitting around the table.

"It would be impossible to imagine a good workable solution being created without Auckland Council, national government, government agencies, in the city being all part of one process to start solving this in a meaningful way. "

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs