Deserving a home

They are us. That sentiment became extensively promoted in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks on March 15, speaking to the willingness of the wider populace to embrace New Zealand Muslims, to accept them and support them and try to understand more about them.

Could the same expression be used to extend a blanket of support over our homeless community?

They, too, are us. But lacking one of the essential elements of civilisation: a home. A roof over their heads, a safe and warm and dry space, a haven in a difficult world.

They, too, need our support.

It can be hard enough to find a decent house in New Zealand when you have a steady job; when you have seemingly found yourself on life's scrap heap, having lost your job or suffered serious mental health problems or descended into the pit of despair brought on by substance abuse, it can appear a distant dream.

The full results from the disastrous 2018 census are still not available, but it seems certain the quinquennial snapshot of a nation will reveal a disturbingly high number of New Zealanders qualify as ''homeless'' - a definition that covers those in emergency housing and sleeping in garages, as well as the typical ''sleeping rough''.

In the 2001 census, one in every 130 Kiwis was suffering severe housing depravation. That rose to one in 120 in 2006, and one in 100 in 2013, promoting Phil Twyford, then Labour housing spokesman in opposition, to declare New Zealand had ''the worst level of homelessness in the world''.

What odds on the homelessness ratio being one in 80 or 90 in 2018? At what point does a problem become a crisis?

It could be even worse than thought. A report last year showed more than 80% of people turning up to community emergency housing providers in the past year were turned away. The ''no vacancy'' signs were out, and the alternatives were park benches and cardboard boxes.

This just doesn't feel right in New Zealand, a country that might have changed a lot in the past 50 years but still takes pride in its status as a sort of egalitarian paradise.

The Government swung into action with a pre-Budget announcement of the injection of $197million over four years to house more than 1000 long-term homeless people. That is linked to the Housing First programme reporting positive results in Auckland, Christchurch, Tauranga, Hamilton and Rotorua.

That is good news - unless you are homeless in the South - but is it a short-term fix? Could we be doing more to address the underlying social issues that contribute to homelessness?

They are us, remember.

Comments

Housing 'deprivation', unless locations are especially depraved.

There are many new Zealanders born here that need help.

 

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