The number of people homeless in Auckland is now up to 23,409 according to a new study looking for possible solutions.

The Auckland Council’s Homelessness Policy Project which is considering what role the organisation should take in addressing homelessness, says the number is up by 3200 people since the last census in 2013 of those without proper housing.

Worse, with no change to policy and responses, the number is projected to rise another 3100 to 26,522 in just three years.  

The old, 2013 census numbers leave out those in ‘uninhabitable housing’ such as garages and sheds. The majority of those included are ‘sharing temporarily’ – which is defined as couch surfing in a private residence (16,350 people); those in temporary accommodation, such as emergency housing, refuges, camp grounds, maraes, hotels and motels and boarding houses (3,175) and those on the streets, rough sleeping or in vehicles (771).

An update on the study by the council’s Affordable Housing Policy Team will today be presented to the Auckland City Centre Advisory Board, a joint council and private sector group working on improving the CBD.

It is analysing overseas responses to homelessness and coming up with options for Auckland Council on how it should respond here. Two of its aims are to “identify gaps and opportunities in Auckland and develop options for Council’s position and role”.

Those driven to homelessness are listed as people of low income, and/or Māori or Pasifika, gay or transgender, affected by mental health issues, addictions, family violence, without support networks or having experienced state care. 

The structural factors driving homelessness range from poverty and unemployment to housing affordability and supply, income inequality and social housing levels.

The presentation says the council currently has its focus on improving the situation but there is “little focus on ending, preventing” homelessness. Auckland Council has two full time staff coordinating its work on the problem, no policy position, and its assets in response involve some housing for older people and public facilities like lockers, showers and libraries.

A designated city rate fund has allocated $2m to an upgrade of the Catholic Church’s James Liston Hostel expected to begin early next year, $1m to Housing First and the Council has $830,000 a year in its long term plan, plus $500,000 in Mayor Phil Goff’s budget. The council distributes money as grants to some homelessness service providers.

The Auckland Plan, the council’s major strategic document, talks of substantially raising living standards and “housing all Aucklanders”, sets a goal of ending rough sleeping by 2030, but the new project says there is no operational policy position.

However there is no overall and comprehensive data apart from a street count annually by the Auckland City Mission, and the census data is quickly dated. No data exists on uninhabitable housing and the Ministry of Social Development has a narrow definition of homelessness. The presentation says the Rough Sleeping Steering Group “operates in an Auckland context but has no mandate or funding.”

It sets out four options for the city to adopt politically and operationally:

– Do Less, with low tolerance of the homeless through regulation enforcement

– Retain the Status Quo, where the Council deals with homelessness on a case by case basis

– Do More, a response involving strategic leadership, coordination and monitoring

– Do a Lot More, a “progressive” response involving affordable housing and possibly social support.

A further report is expected to the council’s Environment and Community Committee next month after more discussions with local boards.

The City Centre Advisory Board has been told council officials are urging those behind big CBD and waterfront developments to provide public “amenities” within their projects that would be accessible to those in need. The council’s Community Empowerment Unit is also talking to the City Mission about installing storage lockers for rough sleepers somewhere in the city, possibly the grounds of the St Matthews in the City church, but the time and cost of managing the service and the Mission’s upcoming move of premises has held that project back.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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