Care takes more than a roof over one’s head

After a lifetime of homelessness, Clive felt lonely and unsupported in a state flat and decided...
After a lifetime of homelessness, Clive felt lonely and unsupported in a state flat and decided to give away his belongings to a housing charity with an intent to hit the streets again. PHOTOS: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
State homes are in short supply, but if a homeless person gets one, but not the support they need, their human rights remain at stake. Mary Williams tells Clive’s story.


After decades of transient homelessness, it seemed unimaginable that a vulnerable man in his 70s would be left without electricity or help he needs in a state house, particularly when the authorities were well aware of his needs.

Clive said there was no power in the flat. It was the start of May and getting colder.

There was also no fridge, washing machine, television or microwave. But without power, they wouldn’t work anyway.

There was a bed and chair but nothing else. A few small bags lay around. The kitchen and bathroom looked unused.

It looked like he was maybe just moving in. He had been there six months.

A well-wisher Melanie* said her family had tried to help him for years, but were not his family. She described him as a homeless, cognitively-impaired pensioner with anxiety who struggled to manage his basic needs.

Clive wasn’t an alcoholic or drug user, she said. Just different. He was kind, gentle and interested in people. He was "constantly searching for acceptance and had a hunger for companionship".

Melanie said the wound was an ulcer that wouldn’t heal and placed him at risk of infection if it wasn’t kept clean. He didn’t always accept help when offered, she said, and he had a diagnosis of a mental illness.

Specialist help and social contact were vital. "This is obvious," Melanie said.

"People have taken on board and been receptive to what I am saying but not achieved a safe, permanent solution that meets his needs. He didn’t ask to be born like this. Compassion and mercy are needed."

Clive had spent about 50 years largely homeless in Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington. He had lived in a car, other people’s houses, boarding houses, motels and on the street. One motel owner described Clive as kindly but a "danger to himself" because he couldn’t care for himself.

Staff in a nearby cafe said Clive came in most days and "sits here, minding his own business".

Clive told the ODT he was lonely. He was so fed up in the flat that he had handed in his notice to Kāinga Ora and was planning to take off the next day. There was no clear plan where he would sleep next.

"With no power, with no TV, with no fridge, I felt penalised — paralysed. I just don’t like being on my own."

Ironically, he had arranged for his bed and chair to be taken away by housing charity Habitat for its op-shop ReStore. The furniture was being loaded into a Habitat van when the ODT visited.

Meeting Clive last year

The ODT had first met Clive nine months ago, in August 2023, when the paper was writing about homelessness. Clive and Melanie had got in touch to say he needed a home.

Clive’s NZ Super largely went on takeaway food, as he didn’t cook. Surprisingly, he called a lawyer if he wanted more money — but this didn’t mean he always got it, or could afford a home. The lawyer managed a small inheritance for Clive and variably said yes or no to requests for cash. It was unclear what rules governed the decisions.

At that time, Clive was forking out more than $700 a week to live in a motel room, more than the cost of a family home. The inheritance was dwindling. He was ageing. It was unsustainable.

Clive had been given a "Dunedin Accommodation Guide" by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), listing boarding house landlords. A motel owner had taken him to see one of the boarding houses but they quickly left. It was grim.

Before being given a state flat, Clive was given a "guide" to places to stay by the Ministry of...
Before being given a state flat, Clive was given a "guide" to places to stay by the Ministry of Social Development, which included boarding houses whose landlords were exposed by the ODT for providing grim accommodation.
MSD withdrew the list after the ODT flagged concerns. However, MSD also said Clive had turned down two Kāinga Ora homes in the past. Melanie said Clive had his reasons. A Kāinga Ora home came without power, furniture or a TV and he wanted to live with people. One home was up a hill. Clive does not have a car.

"Were they serious about offering him this flat or were they trying to speed up the process to get him off their books?"

MSD said at the time: "We would encourage him to contact us to discuss how we can help him further." With Melanie’s help, Clive did.

The ‘ODT’ investigates

When the ODT caught up with Clive again this month, he had been in the Kāinga Ora flat since October 30.

He had entered the flat through a transitional housing scheme that MSD points homeless people to. The government contracts The Salvation Army (TSA) to run it.

According to government guidance for charities running the scheme, they should house a homeless person safely in temporary accommodation and develop a transition plan that leads to housing "suitable to them and their needs".

The help shouldn’t stop then. The partnership manager of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development William Barris, responding to ODT queries about transitional housing, said the charity should then provide "ongoing support for up to 12 weeks to help them settle into their new home".

TSA had housed Clive for five weeks in a motel and transitioned him into the Kāinga Ora flat. Both Clive and Melanie said they had some contact with a TSA employee for a while after he entered the unit, but both said this didn’t seem to be ongoing and Clive had ongoing needs.

We asked Clive why he thought the transitional housing scheme hadn’t led him to a home with ongoing help. He said: "Perhaps they were just too busy".

The ODT alerted Kāinga Ora and TSA that Clive was planning to leave the next day and giving away his bed — but the next morning Clive was found sleeping on the carpet.

A few hours later, a St John officer was at the flat along with a Kāinga Ora employee who thanked the newspaper "for your concern" and shut the door. Clive was exited through a different door, into an ambulance and taken to hospital.

Melanie sat down with the ODT and shared evidence that she had flagged concerns with the authorities about the move to the Kāinga Ora flat from the get-go.

On October 31, a day after Clive had moved into the flat, Melanie had sent a round-robin email to MSD, Kāinga Ora, TSA and the lawyer who held Clive’s money, Fleur Hobson of Hobson Mills Law on the Kapiti Coast.

Melanie’s email said there was no power or appliances in the flat, nor any arranged home help.

Melanie pleaded with the agencies and lawyer to communicate with one another and resolve everything. Melanie had no authority to do things for Clive herself.

A day later, on November 1, she emailed again suggesting Clive should go back to the motel until power was connected.

Kāinga Ora directed a reply to a TSA employee assigned to Clive, saying it understood TSA provided 12 weeks’ support and should address the concerns. They also suggested a referral to a charity that specialises in residential care could be appropriate beyond that.

The lawyer, Ms Hobson, wrote to MSD, saying she had "discretion" to release estate funds to Clive "if warranted in the circumstances". In a further email she said funds could be released for small items including a toilet brush, broom and a bucket. Funds could not be released for power, home help, fridge or a washing machine.

MSD said Clive could apply to MSD for help if needed to buy appliances.

The TSA employee sent text messages to Melanie indicating they were helping Clive get appliances and connect power. A week after Clive’s tenancy started, the messages show neither had happened.

Melanie said Clive started saying he wanted to go back to the motel. His power was connected eventually but was intermittent. It relied on Clive pre-paying it.

Melanie said Kāinga Ora had given Clive a "welcome gift" of cleaning products. "But even if you bought him a washing machine, he wouldn’t know how to use it."

Clive told the ODT that the good thing about motels was that they came with heating arranged by someone else, plus furniture and a TV.

In December, Melanie texted the TSA employee to warn that Clive was thinking of leaving. The TSA employee texted back to say they didn’t think it would happen. Melanie replied: "He spends most of his time alone. I think it’s a bit depressing."

What the authorities said

Responding to a query from the ODT, a spokesperson for TSA said the charity had conducted an internal investigation into Clive’s case. It was "confident" Clive received "the same level of support we offer to anyone in a mana-affirming way that keeps their dignity intact. The wellbeing of the people we serve is our utmost priority".

TSA said it had a high number of people "who we have successfully transitioned into permanent housing". Its support for people "focuses on giving them the tools to enable them to sustain their tenancies".

"However, in a few cases, for a range of reasons, things do not work out for a person, or they chose not to engage or reach out to our staff for help. In these cases, it can lead to a person’s tenancy ending."

The ODT contacted the lawyer, Ms Hobson, who said she represented Clive but did not have power of attorney. The newspaper asked specific questions about the lawyer’s involvement in Clive’s case, but received no further reply.

On May 5, four days after the ODT had visited Clive at the Kāinga Ora flat, Melanie asked Ms Hobson if the power was now on and being paid by his inheritance. Ms Hobson confirmed a day later that "power will not be turned off". Bills were being sent to her, to be paid from Clive’s money.

The news contradicted the email sent by Ms Hobson to MSD six months earlier, saying Clive’s money could not be used for power.

Kāinga Ora acting regional director Mel Park said her team had "provided support to get the customer’s power connected at the home".

"Like many people, the customer chooses to use power sparingly, and at one point had chosen not to top up their pre-paid power account. We have since helped the customer to set up a monthly process to ensure they continue to have power in the home."

Ms Park said her agency was responsible for providing a "warm dry healthy home" and assigned a "housing support manager" who makes home visits to ensure a house is "meeting the needs of the tenant".

She stressed, however, that her agency houses "some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people, some of whom have underlying issues and complex needs that we, as a landlord, cannot address". In such situations, a Kāinga Ora housing support manager could connect tenants with help from "appropriate support networks ... who can help them with the social and health services they may need."

MSD regional director Sue Rissman said Clive had an "agent" who manages interactions with them.

"We have not been contacted by either Clive or his agent since he moved to his current accommodation." It was unclear if they meant Melanie or the lawyer.

The ODT asked Melanie what she thought of the involvement of government agencies and TSA in Clive’s case so far.

It seemed a case of "tick the box, thank you for the funding", she said. Neither Kāinga Ora nor MSD had contacted her when Clive handed in his notice on the flat.

Clive now

Clive was discharged from hospital back into the flat. The ODT met up with him again, in a cafe.

The charity Habitat, which took away Clive’s bed for sale in its ReStore op shop, had been back to his home to give him a bed, bedding and other furniture at no cost.

Clive asked lots of chatty questions about travel, celebrities and cities. He wanted to stay in Dunedin.

"Dunedin people are nice. The bigger the place, the harder it is. Dunedin is better than a big place." He kept repeating his need: "I want to live with other people."

He promised he wouldn’t give his bed away again but said he still didn’t have a fridge. He hoped for a better housing solution where he could live with other people and said he hoped to move his bed there. Then he said thank you.

A few days later, Clive was back in hospital. Melanie was again asking agencies to provide Clive with somewhere to live where he gets the support he needs.

She made a final plea: "In cases like this, surely the authorities should be able to find a way to give a vulnerable person the care they need and relieve them of the stress of having to make life decisions themselves that keep them safe."

* Names changed to protect the vulnerable.