26 Mar 2020

Some rough sleepers still have nowhere to go during lockdown

6:27 pm on 26 March 2020

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Agencies have kicked into high gear to get rough sleepers into accommodation during the lockdown, but some people still have nowhere to go.

Auckland's Otahuhu on the morning of 26 March, on the first day of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

As those who are lucky to have a home are bunkering down for a month-long lockdown, others are feeling scared about where they will go.

About 26 people turned up to Lifewise on Auckland's Karangahape Road today, to seek emergency accommodation.

Since yesterday Lifewise has housed 33 people but had to turn eight away today.

Spokesperson Zoe Truell said as soon as motel rooms appear online, they get in touch.

Zoe Truell  of Lifewise in Auckland.

Zoe Truell Photo: Supplied/Lifewise

"Our messaging yesterday was that we were only housing people who were unwell or were in the high-risk vulnerability category. Today we're changing that, we're housing whoever we can."

Of the 15 they could not house yesterday, some would have gone back onto the street, she said.

The government is now really stepping up, she said.

"Things have really radically changed in the last couple of days, people on the street are getting pretty worried with the lockdown, feeling scared, isolated and really wanting to get into housing and the government is really shifting into high gear to help us make that happen, which is excellent."

Truell hopes there is a silver lining to the crisis and more people will be permanently housed.

"We spoke to someone who has been 30 years on the street and really wanting to get inside.

"There is a change on both sides, the government's will to make this happen and people on the street, their desire to make this happen."

Wellington faith-based community organisation DCM is also working with government to hand out phones and simcards, so people sleeping rough or who do not have access to a phone can be contacted.

DCM's Stephanie McIntyre said dozens have been handed out so far and she predicts that number could rise to about 100.

DCM Stephanie McIntyre

Stephanie McIntyre Photo: Supplied

Yesterday, up to 20 people turned up to their Wellington site seeking help.

But she said it is urgent that agencies like theirs come up with ways to support people at a distance.

"They weren't maintaining physical distance, they were sharing cigarettes, they were sharing food - so some alarming things that help us understand why its really important that relatively quickly agencies like ours - we need to stop drawing people to our physical sites."

McIntyre estimated about 20 people are still on the streets, or living in the bush, in Wellington and their street outreach teams are trying to find them.

But she said those with the most complex needs are the most difficult to house.

"We've known for years that people with high and complex unmet mental health needs, particularly when linked to addictions, have consistently missed out on all housing options."

McIntyre said there is vigourous work happening with MSD to this house this group.

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Archdeacon Stephen King at the St Peter's Anglican Church on Willis Street in Wellington said it is crucial people get those phones because they are struggling to access Work and Income who will set them up with housing.

Work and Income are taking calls only but the spots where rough sleepers usually use phones are closed too.

And it is not just those sleeping on the streets people are worried about.

Emergency providers are warning more families will be sleeping in cars this winter. One housing trust is getting up to a dozen enquiries every day.

Some people are still living on the streets or in their cars. Photo: Supplied

Wellington Homeless Women's Trust chair Kirsten Patterson said women experiencing 'invisible homelessness' - sleeping in garages, cars and on couches - could risk danger to have a roof over their head.

"We're going to have women staying in unsafe places," she said.

"If we have a homeless community who are not able to have somewhere safe to isolate, then there will be movement around the community."

She said she was worried about the usual services being harder to get to or not available during this time.

Patterson is urging people to keep an eye on their neighbours during the lockdown.

The Ministry for Housing and Urban Development says it has secured 400 extra places for emergency accommodation since the alert level system was announced.

Most of those are in motels and for people sleeping rough or in night shelters.

The figure for how many people have been housed is not yet available.

The Ministry for Social Development's general manager for housing, Karen Hocking, said clients currently in emergency housing do not have to repay those costs, except where there are exceptional circumstances.

The ministry was due to implement a contribution for emergency housing on 30 March.

As part of the ministry's response to Covid-19 that contribution has been deferred for a minimum of 12-weeks.

It said it will review the situation at the conclusion of that 12-week period.

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