Homelessness must end

Food, shelter, clothing - we are taught from a young age these are the staples for survival.

From the relative comfort and wealth of our safe and fertile country we watch as others around the world struggle without one or more of these staples.

Being unable to provide the basics of life to your children is surely the most poignant and uncontested definition of poverty.

It is easy to see such struggles as just an overseas problem and, to an extent, certain levels of poverty are not present in New Zealand.

We are lucky to not have famine, war and political turmoil attacking those most basic human rights.

But there are families struggling in New Zealand; indeed they are struggling in Otago.

When a family is left homeless because they do not have the money to provide shelter for their children we need to pay attention.

Perhaps most New Zealanders would think homelessness, if it existed at all in this country, would be a big city problem.

It is unlikely many would think of it being a Queenstown problem.

But a workshop in the resort last week showed poverty is a reality for some of its residents.

Some 50 people attended the TacklingPovertyNZ workshop, which heard presentations from Treasury's Dr Girol Karacagolu and DataFutures Partnership Working Group chairwoman Dame Diane Robertson.

But the presentations which made headlines were those from the Salvation Army's Hine March and Happiness House co-ordinator Nicky Mason.

The two women work on the coalface of Queenstown's poverty problems and painted a stark picture.

High rent and living costs paired with low incomes had led to a situation where people in the resort, including families, were homeless.

Others were living hand-to-mouth in accommodation they couldn't afford, and without the money to fund a shift elsewhere, they felt trapped.

The acute disparity between income and housing costs were leaving people suffering anxiety and depression, affecting their relationships and their children.

Counselling was unaffordable so not deemed an option. Some people were surviving week to week.

Others, including families, were homeless.

When families are homeless in a country as stable, wealthy and safe as New Zealand, something is very wrong.

Whether it is happening in South Auckland or Queenstown makes no difference to what our response should be.

Homelessness reflects on all of us, especially those who govern on our behalf. It should not be happening.

What surprises with Queenstown is, unlike South Auckland, the town is surrounded by undeveloped land.

The deep south is also a big producer of wood, stone and other building materials. Combining those assets to provide affordable housing in the resort has to date proved to be too hard.

For the families or individuals involved this isn't just a puzzle, an annoyance or something to be explained away by market forces.

This is homelessness.

For them this is an emergency.

When European settlers descended on the Queenstown area in large numbers more than 150 years ago building shelter was at a top priority.

The shelter may have been crude by today's standards, but it existed.

In the time since, New Zealand, like all Western countries, has developed rules, planning documents and enforcement measures.

It's no longer legal for a struggling family to make a mud brick hut on an empty field or near the banks of a river.

But if lawmakers take away the right for people to provide shelter for their families as best they can in times of emergency, the onus is surely on them to see affordable shelter is always available - whether or not a family's income compensates for high land and construction costs.

Queenstown has plenty of land, building materials, builders and money.

Through whatever means those four things need to come together, and quickly, to fix what is an emergency for the people struggling to find shelter in the town.

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