23 Aug 2019

Hope for homeless in Whangārei as housing project launched

6:15 pm on 23 August 2019

The government has launched its Housing First project in Northland with a ceremony at Whangārei's Kaka Porowini Marae.

General vision of homelessness in Auckland central city.

Photo: RNZ / Luke McPake

The programme finds secure rental homes for chronically homeless people, then tackles their health and addiction problems.

Three community services in Whangārei: Kāhui Tū Kaha, One-Double-Five Community House and Ngāti Hine Health have joined forces to run the programme, under the banner Kainga Puumanawa.

Housing First originated in Canada.

Whangārei spokesperson Liz Cassidy-Nelson said in trials around the world, 80 percent of people in the programme kept their tenancies and did not go back to the street.

"Whangārei is facing a housing crisis with hundreds of families waiting for state houses and many more living rough in bushes, cars, tents and under bridges," Ms Cassidy-Nelson said.

The Whangārei programme has government funding to house and support 40 people in its first year.

Carol Peters, who founded the Open Arms centre for the homeless in Whangārei last year, said the programme would be a godsend for those people.

About 90 homeless people were registered with Open Arms, but many more were not, Dr Peters said.

"Those who are living on the street are just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of people in over-crowded situations; there are young families that need to go out on their own, and they can't because it's just too expensive or simply not available."

A Whangārei kaumātua, who's been homeless for a year, said he now had a sense of hope.

Fred Tito is frequently called on by councils, police and community organisations agencies to perform karakia and blessings in the city.

But few would know he has been living in his car - and separated from the grandson he cares for.

Ms Peters said it was shameful that Mr Tito was homeless in a town that he served humbly and without complaint.

Mr Tito wouldn't comment on that.

But he said the influx of hundreds of people from Auckland in the last year or two had made it hard for Māori beneficiaries to find a place to rent in Whangārei.

"There's some racism, but it's mainly if you're a beneficiary, they don't want to know.

"My young fella is in a safe place right now, but we need a place where I can take care of him."

Today Mr Tito learned he was top of the list for a rental home through Housing First and that has lifted his spirits.

"I'm just so happy ... that people without hope of homes now have something to look forward to. Health-wise, emotion-wise ... it's just that sense of 'Wow! Chur! I'm going to get a place!'."

Sleeping in a car had taken its toll on his middle-aged body, Mr Tito said.

"My feet swell up because it's hard to put your feet up in a car ... the doctor said that was what caused it. I never had it before. It was like walking on balloons."

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