26 Apr 2018

'Our homeless community is going to be bigger than ever'

5:11 am on 26 April 2018

Groups working with homeless people are bracing themselves for another gruelling few months as winter sets in.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Emergency housing providers said the need for homes in the colder months is just as high as previous years and urgent plans must be made to ensure people were sheltered.

De Paul House, based on Auckland's North Shore, has been housing people for 32 years and manager Jan Rutledge said this year would be just as tough as last year.

"It's very hard to gather what the need will be, but it's certainly anecdotally something that we are really concerned about.

"Demand always peaks in winter, and in terms of our services, it's still really distressingly easy to fill our spaces - we do have a wait-list and for the 23 places for families that we have, they are pretty much continually at full capacity."

The 2013 census showed more than 41,000 people were without homes or living in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation.

More than 6000 people are waiting for a house on the Ministry of Social Development's social housing register.

Ms Rutledge said these figures were unlikely to represent the real scale of homelessness.

"The social housing system is really complex and, unless you have an advocate, your needs are often not captured accurately.

"There is, increasingly, a call to measure the demand, which would be really effective," Ms Rutledge said.

Bernie Smith of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, which focuses on families in need, said the trust was full and fielding multiple calls a day.

"Rentals have increased, housing stock has decreased, but we're getting new arrivals in Auckland every day, so our homeless community is going to be bigger than ever before."

Local and central government need to start resourcing and planning with community groups, Mr Smith said.

"Community and state leaders, church leaders, entrepreneurs, everyone should be coming together right now and let's come up with a creative plan to make sure no one is living in a park or a car over this winter.

"There's lots of community halls, there's lots of church halls, doing not too dissimilar to what Te Puea Marae is doing."

Mr Smith has also urged "mum and dad property investors" to rent homes to emergency providers.

Lifewise's Housing First programme, which is run in cooperation with Auckland City Mission, aims to keep chronically homeless people housed.

It has housed 39 people in the last year, while the broader Housing First Collective has housed 387.

Paul Timinis from Lifewise said getting people straight into a home helped keep them there.

"All the whānau that are housed are now supporting the ones that are homeless, and that's huge out there in the community that: 'look at this lady, look at that guy, we can do this, if they can, we can'.

"For example, we had one gentleman who's been on the street 25 years, he's now housed and he still can't believe it to this day."

Mr Timinis said wrap-around support and using a kaupapa Māori response to housing people also resonated with the community.

"As Māori we look at the heartbeat of a person - not the stigma, the mad, bad or sad," he said.

"And then we can generate friendship; we can generate trust."

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the government was putting together a package of measures to make sure no one was without shelter this winter.

"I don't think any New Zealanders feel okay about the kind of homelessness and the desperate need that we've seen from people over the last couple of winters.

"We're doing everything we can to mobilise extra resources."

The government will announce the package over the coming weeks, which will include rolling out more emergency and transitional housing.

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