26 May 2019

New money to house homeless sparks hope in Whangārei

5:38 pm on 26 May 2019

People caring for the homeless in Whangārei say the imminent arrival of the Housing First programme in the region has sparked new hope.

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Photo: forestpath/123RF

Housing First works with community groups to find homes for long-term homeless people, and give them ongoing support.

The government has announced there will be an extra $97 million in the budget for MSD to expand the scheme into Northland and other places.

In Whangārei, the Ngāti Whatua charity Kahui Tu Kaha will lease or buy the homes; Ngati Hine Health will do the social work and 155 Community House will co-ordinate.

Community worker Carol Peters said landlords would be guaranteed their rent, and supervision of their properties.

"I am thrilled that this is going ahead, but it is just the first step. It's not good enough to have even one person for one day living on the streets, we really need to make homelessness a rare occurrence in Whangārei," she said.

The city's Open Arms Day Centre, which Dr Peters helped set up, now has 97 people on its books.

Carol Peters at the Whangarei homeless day shelter.

Carol Peters Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

But it estimates many more than that are sleeping rough or in their cars this winter. A number had already been hospitalised with flu and other illnesses.

"Obviously when you're sleeping on the street you're very vulnerable to the flu and colds, and many of them go into hospital and stay longer there than people who have houses would because their health is poor, and it takes longer for them to recover," Dr Peters said.

Housing First has operated in Hamilton since 2014 and was launched in Auckland under the previous National government in 2017.

It also runs in Christchurch, Tauranga and Rotorua.

The programme, which was created by Canadian community psychologist Sam Tsemberis in 1992 and pioneered in Finland, is based on the premise that it is easier for people to address health, addiction and employment problems once they have a secure roof over their heads.

It aims to provide housing quickly then offer tailored support to help people keep their tenancies and improve their lives.

MSD says since 2017 Housing First has taken 720 people and whānau off the streets and into permanent homes.

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