3 Jun 2016

Hundreds of young people sleeping rough - survey

7:54 am on 3 June 2016

Significant numbers of young people are sleeping rough or couch surfing because they can not find anywhere else to live, new research shows, eight years after the Ministry of Social Development warned the government about the problem.

The People's Project has housed 127 people in just over a year.

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said the survey numbers were a wake-up call for the government. Photo: 123RF

The survey involved more than 110 social services, youth and housing organisations dealing with more than 3000 young people.

It found 13 percent of young people were couch surfing, 9 percent were sleeping rough and 5 percent were sleeping in a vehicle.

And a Christchurch youth worker said young people were resorting to prostitution or theft to pay their rent, and the numbers in the survey could just be the tip of the iceberg

The survey reported there are few suitable places for young people to live, particularly for those moving out of Child, Youth and Family care, and that undermined their opportunities to study and work.

National MP, Paula Bennett.

Minister for Social Housing Paula Bennett. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

However, the Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett, who commissioned the survey, said she believed the situation is improving.

"We have set up the supported youth housing and when I was Minister of Social Development that was also around those that were teen parents and set up homes for them with a whole lot of wrap around support."

"Then as Minister of Social Housing I've been able to again initiate some homes where they can go into where they've got that real wrap around support."

Mrs Bennett said she has visited some of those places and they seemed to be working well.

But Anni Watkin, the general manager of Youth Cultural Development in Christchurch, said it was still near impossible for young people to rent decent accommodation, and there were many more homeless young people the government authorities knew nothing about.

"Because there is a shortfall in housing we find that landlord, private landlords especially, will lean toward people who have a history of being good tenants, and families before they'll even consider young people."

Ms Watkin said most of the young people who could not find homes lived from day to day, couch surfing or sleeping rough.

"We're finding some young people are accepting really unsavoury accommodation with people who can't be trusted."

She said some young people resorted to prostitution or stealing to pay their board, while others tended to end up in prison.

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford, who obtained the survey under the official information act, said it should be a wake-up call for the government.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

He said he believed there could be thousands of young people who were homeless, and the government had done nothing substantial about the problem.

"It's quite shocking that there are so many young people who are amongst the 34,000-odd people that Otago University believes are homeless in New Zealand today."

Mr Twyford said teenagers were among the most vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence in cases of homelessness.

Meanwhile, the government introduced legislation to Parliament on Wednesday which will allow vulnerable young people to remain in state care until they are at least 18.

They will also have the option of remaining fully in state care until they are 21 or at least be eligible for some support services up to the age of 25.

Currently they lose all support the day they turn 17.

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