'People are desperate': Housing pressure pain in Dunedin

Family Works Presbyterian Support Otago practice manager Deb Gelling. Photo: ODT
Family Works Presbyterian Support Otago practice manager Deb Gelling. Photo: ODT
Some people in Dunedin are resorting to staying in violent relationships to keep a roof over their head. Others are couch-surfing or living in overcrowded conditions.

Not that long ago Dunedin was seen as an affordable city, but a rapid upswing in growth means its most vulnerable residents are under pressure.

Earlier this year, the Mayor's Taskforce for Housing released a report showing house prices sat at almost six times the median wage and hundreds of households faced housing stress.

Family Works Presbyterian Support Otago practice manager Deb Gelling said people were putting themselves in dangerous and unhealthy situations, including staying in violent homes, just to keep a roof over their heads.

"There's people sleeping in the basements of houses. There's people sleeping in garages. There's people sleeping in cars. There's people staying in relationships that are not safe. There are people in overcrowded situations, so a number of people living in small homes."

The problem was affecting families across the socio-economic spectrum, including a surprising number that would traditionally be considered middle-class, and the problem was not always visible, she said.

"It's something that people are not going to tell anybody about," Ms Gelling said.

"It's not something you are going to go and tell you're work colleagues about. It's hard to step out and find the support for that sort of thing."

The mayor's taskforce's report showed an unknown number could not even get into a home.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins.
Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins.
Those who contributed to the report had now set their minds to quantifying the problem.

In October, a summit was called to discuss homelessness in the city.

The council's community development and events manager, Joy Gunn, said unless the problem was quantified, seeking central government support was difficult.

"We do have a problem. It's possibly a little bit larger than we originally thought," she said.

"There have been some numbers put out, that we still need some verification on, that we have 30 to 40 people who are homeless at any one time and they may or may not be on any housing register."

Increasingly, people were struggling to get by, she said.

"Dunedin's always been seen as a city where everybody's okay, but we do have a group of people in our community - which is hugely concerning - that are not okay."

Dunedin Night Shelter Trust chairperson Rob Thomson said there was a growing problem in finding somewhere to live long-term in the city.

"I think the issue of finding quality long-term accommodation is more and more difficult in Dunedin," he said.

"People are desperate and you look at open homes there's 10s and 20s of families desperate to find somewhere."

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins, who headed the taskforce under Dave Cull in the previous triennium, said it was not good enough for homelessness to be a problem in the city.

"Our goal should be ending homelessness in our community but to do that we first need a better handle on the scale of the need, what services are currently being offered in the community already and where the gaps are."

There was not enough public housing in the city and the council had a role to play in addressing that, he said.

Senior Sergeant Craig Dinnissen said complicating the matter was that some of the city's most obvious rough sleepers were not those in need.

Some were choosing the street, despite having accommodation options available, as they could make up to $200 a day from begging and the cruise ship season marked a notable increase in the practice, he said.

Dunedin was a very generous city to those on the street, but people would be better putting their money towards the Night Shelter and other social agencies.

"Buying food and then delivering it to those food banks would be far more beneficial to the greater majority of people that struggle, not only at this time of year but throughout the year," he said.

Ms Gunn said the city would be seeking central government support to assist those in need.

The council earlier this year voted to back a two-decade Housing Action Plan and put $260,000 towards supporting it for the first two years.

 

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