29 Apr 2021

Emergency accommodation support services lack a 'moral failure' by government - social housing provider

6:50 pm on 29 April 2021

A social housing provider is demanding the government provide full wrap-around support to everyone living in emergency accommodation.

Bernie Smith of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust.

Bernie Smith of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust. Photo: Eva Corlett

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today indicated on Morning Report a commitment to ramping up support for those living in motels.

Demand for emergency accommodation has exploded in recent years with the government now spending nearly a million dollars a day to put people up.

There are about 8500 people living in motels and other temporary accommodation, some in conditions one of the government's own ministers has described as "inhumane".

Many tenants have complex mental health and addiction issues, and intimidation is rife in some places.

Ardern said the government already provided wrap-around services to some in emergency accommodation, and it was considering boosting this.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith said it was ridiculous not everyone could access the services.

"It's certainly a moral failure because we know if the government had the fortitude to make the change they would.

"It needs the government to commit to every family and every motel across the country having social work support."

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said support was provided according to need.

"We need to continually monitor whether or not we are getting to enough families and providing families with the support they need.

"Some move into emergency accommodation and out relatively quickly, but there certainly are a number who do need wrap-around support."

Smith said people should not be forced to ask for help.

He said the government had four years to come up with a plan and he wanted action now.

"We're actually creating a generation of homeless children who are not only homeless and in poverty, but sadly ... are going to be in our mental health and penal institutions because we haven't looked after them today.

"And it's not good enough in New Zealand."

Smith said once families left emergency housing for transitional housing they got a good level of wrap-around care. He said the service should be expanded to include everyone right from first entering emergency accommodation.

Salvation Army national practice manager Jono Bell said work needed to be done to find out how many people were missing out on help they needed.

"Some people are getting the support but other aren't.

"Our question would be, what is that ratio? What are the numbers that aren't getting that support? And how do we ensure that we could ramp up services to ensure that we'll be able to provide that wraparound support."

The PSA union represents social services workers and its spokesperson Alastair Reith said social workers were already under the pump and the government would need to front cash to get wider support to those in emergency accommodation.

"If you talk to pretty much any social worker in New Zealand they'll say they have a lot to do and not enough time to do it.

"So it's definitely possible, but ... this workforce [is] already stretched [and] they'll need more resources and more funding to do it."

Reith said rather than lining the pockets of motel owners the government needed to finance and build more social housing.

Carmel Sepuloni said the government was committed to building 18,000 new social houses by 2024 to ease the pent up demand.

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