Opinion: Sitting in front of the fire last Sunday night, with a glass of red, roast in the slow cooker, the TV news in the background. Pretty nice scenario.
Except when the item on the news tells you that 480 people on the public housing register said at the time of their application their current abode was their car. And that is up from 108 in 2017.
When the Auckland City Mission says it usually gets about 15 calls a month saying people are sleeping in cars or rough but recently that’s increased up to about 15 calls a week.
When a youth worker states the number will likely be much higher because so many homeless are invisible to the system and young people are choosing their cars over emergency housing because it’s safer.
We see this first hand at the Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust that I chair.
We know some are homeless because they cannot afford housing. The supply is not there, the cost is too high. The solutions for this group will be increased supply at an affordable price.
But we also know for many, finding a safe, affordable home is only one of the many challenges they face, along with mental and physical health challenges and addiction problems.
These are the women we warmly welcome to our whare.
The solutions for this group will not only be increased housing supply at an affordable price but the wraparound support services they need.
Yet as a housing provider, we are funded to provide a bed with minimal staffing overheads.
But we choose to do more than that. Through fundraising, we provide counselling services and a therapeutic social work programme. Through the generosity of amazing community organisations, there is always nutritious food at our whare. Through a generous grant, we can provide dental care for our women – many having much-needed dental work for the first time.
While the housing ministers, especially the Minister with responsibility for homelessness, are asked to front up, the issues for many are not just about rent prices and supply. They are about a stretched mental health service. They are about access to basic health services. They are about an effective transition out of prison. And more.
Until officials and ministers stop focusing on narrow funding buckets and siloed action plans, and start focusing on humans, especially the 480 who are sleeping in their cars, little will change.
Researchers at He Kāinga Oranga, University of Otago, Wellington would go a step further saying some homelessness is even caused by officials and Government policy.
Their study found homeless women had multiple interactions with government agencies. Women did not suddenly become homeless and were not ‘hard to reach’. They consistently approached government agencies with needs that were not met, mostly relating to poverty, that lead to their homelessness.
We at the Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust, like many other community organisations across New Zealand, are going to keep doing what is needed for the women who stay with us.
It would, however, be much easier if we weren’t battling a system that – at its worst – contributes to the problem.