Housing crisis no figment: agency

People are sleeping in cars and garages in Dunedin and homelessness is a growing problem in the city, two Presbyterian Support Otago (PSO) representatives say. 

Family Works director Paul Hooper and Family Works practice manager Melanie McNatty were incensed by Housing Minister Nick Smith's comments, reported yesterday, about the housing crisis.

Dr Smith said: "The idea that that suddenly happened in May 2016 is a figment of some people's imagination.''

In response, PSO contacted the Otago Daily Times to talk about a problem that is now being tracked by the organisation.

"We've got people living in garages,'' Mr Hooper said.

"It is clearly not a figment of our imagination.

"I'm not a person who [usually] goes racing to the media.''

Mr Hooper said he knew of three people living in cars in Dunedin at present.

Of 26 clients seeking housing assistance at Family Works this year, 20 were homeless and 11 were women with children.

"We work really hard to try to put people into housing and for [Mr Smith] to say that, he needs to get out in the real world,'' Ms McNatty said.

Mr Hooper said he accepted Dr Smith's point that homelessness was not new, but the problem was increasing significantly.

Dunedin's growing population was exacerbating the problem.

One of their clients was happy to be admitted to Dunedin Hospital recently, as it gave her a place to stay for a few weeks, Ms McNatty said.

"When she comes out, there's still nowhere for her to go.''

In Dunedin it cost about $350 a week for a three-bedroom house, and families spent up to $800 a month to heat the typically "old, cold'' houses.

The organisation started to keep homeless figures in the aftermath of the Dunedin flood last year, when it was active in helping people to find accommodation.

As it had become much tougher to get state housing, clients found it hard to contemplate even trying to get help, Ms McNatty said.

"People develop a phobia for trying to get the help they need because they know the answer's no.

"Housing New Zealand's new criteria means that you have to have exhausted all other avenues,'' Ms McNatty said.

The pair hope tomorrow's Budget delivers much needed income relief for the poor.

"We're talking about working poor here, too.

"We value an inclusive New Zealand and we're starting to see greater marginalisations impacting on ordinary Kiwis,'' Mr Hooper said.


PSO client case study

•has two school-aged children, and a mortgage.
•Lost job in December 2015.
•Carla is at risk of losing her house and urgently needs work.
•Total weekly income of $569 including benefit, accommodation supplement, family tax credit.
•Weekly outgoings $755* Name changed

Source: Homeless in Otago; Presbyterian Support Otago newsletter, June 2016







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