Queenstown’s poverty, homelessness highlighted

Beneath the ‘‘veneer'' of Queenstown's moneyed label was a different reality for many, including homelessness, attendees at a poverty workshop in the town heard yesterday.

About 50 people attended the all-day TacklingPovertyNZ Queenstown workshop, which included presentations from panelists Dr Girol Karacagolu, of Treasury, and Dame Diane Robertson, chairwoman of the DataFutures Partnership Working Group.

It was the first of a series of workshops which stemmed from a national workshop in December, a joint initiative between the McGuinness Institute and the Treasury.

Two women at the coalface in Queenstown spoke to the group, shedding light on the reality for many families trying to make a life in the town.

Salvation Army community worker Hine Marchand and Happiness House co-ordinator Nicky Mason said many were struggling to make ends meet. Some wanted to leave, but could not find the money to move.

Ms Mason said the high cost of rent and living coupled with low incomes was manifesting itself in long-term renters leaving the area, something she described as ‘‘really sad''.

Further, those struggling were often suffering from anxiety and depression, which affected their relationships and their children.

While there were counselling services available, many could not afford to pay for them.

Ms Mason said the number one priority was housing.

‘‘People are living week to week. The thought of leaving town is impossible because they have not got the funds [to do that].

‘‘It manifests into relationship breakdowns [and] the children take that on.''

Ms Marchand said the cost of living had increased during the past 30 years, but incomes appeared relatively stagnant.

She bought her first home in Queenstown 28 years ago for $97,000.

The same house was now ‘‘going for $600,000 to $700,000''. Because of a housing shortage, some people were renting a bunk bed in a shared room for $200 a week.

They were also required to pay a bond, a letting fee and several weeks' rent in advance for an individual room.

Often rent did not include bills and with the ‘‘massive'' cost of power during winter, many spent all summer trying to pay off their bills.

‘‘The implications of that are overwhelming anxiety, constantly.

‘‘Queenstown is perceived to be the ‘in money' place.

‘‘Underneath that veneer, it's not like that at all.

‘‘There are a lot of families struggling. There are a few that are homeless.''

Other factors affecting Queenstown residents included Work and Income New Zealand's accommodation supplement, which assisted with rent, board or the cost of owning a home, but only applied to some areas in Wakatipu.

Any suburb more than 10 years old qualified, so people in Fernhill might be eligible for the supplement, but not people in new suburbs like Shotover Country.

‘‘The whole of the Wakatipu [should be] under the umbrella.''

During yesterday's workshop, participants brainstormed local issues, challenges and opportunities which were then presented at a public meeting at the Queenstown Memorial Centre last night.

A brief overview discussion paper mapping issues and solutions will be prepared and given to the chief economist at the New Zealand Treasury, as part of a ‘‘national conversation'' on poverty reduction.

Workshops will also be held in Rotorua, Manawatu, Gisborne and the Far North district.

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