17 May 2016

WINZ will do 'absolute best' to help homeless

12:36 pm on 17 May 2016

People with housing problems should talk to Work and Income straight away - if possible even before they have to leave their homes - says a ministry spokesperson.

The boot is full of bedding and some food

In March, 428 people across the country were recorded by WINZ as saying they were homeless. Photo: Supplied

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key told RNZ that families sleeping in cars, garages and shipping containers should go to Work and Income for help.

Social workers on the frontlines of Auckland's housing crisis have said families with children are asking for help - but aren't getting it.

Ministry of Social Development spokesperson Carl Crafar told Morning Report people should make contact as soon as possible.

"We'd like to get ahead of their issues becoming more acute than what they already are.

"So the first thing we try and do is see if we can help people maintain or retain their existing accommodation by addressing any requirements around rent or arrears or any issues with the house they're currently in."

If someone told Work and Income they were homeless, it would speak to emergency housing providers to get them a place, if one was available.

"People should approach us straight away so that we can look see what assistance we can provide.

"There's a number of things that we would do - we'd make referrals to existing emergency housing providers

"The second thing that we would do is that we would look to see if there's any short term accommodation that we can provide them such as motels or hotels."

Mr Crafar said a motel stay was limited to seven days but that should be enough time to sort out some sort of longer term housing.

But Labour Party leader Andrew Little doubted Work and Income could help people with serious housing needs.

He told Morning Report many had been to Work and Income and not received assistance.

"Many of them are in a state where, if they're living in a car or living in a garage with their kids, they've already been beaten down by the system.

"So simply saying 'trot on off to the nearest WINZ office and they'll get it sorted out' - it simply isn't going to happen."

Mr Little said the long-term solution was for the Government to provide more houses and, in the short term, Work and Income should work with all housing providers to find homes for people in serious need.

Latest figures from WINZ show 428 people across the country were recorded as saying they were homeless in the month of March.

However that figure is far too conservative, according to chief executive of advocacy group Lifewise, Moira Lawler.

She said there was a tidal wave of homelessness in Auckland that was too big for Work and Income, which was desperately under-resourced.

The reality was there were not enough places to shelter people and many would give up after waiting months or years for housing or for benefits to be approved.

"What is the point of putting yourself through that bureaucracy, the constant reporting, the constant turn-up, when if you're in Auckland you know they have nowhere to put you anyway?"

Ms Lawler said Work and Income staff could only put vulnerable people on lists and did not have the mandate to make sure they did not end up on the street.

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