In recent weeks we have been confronted with disturbing images of people – men, women and children sleeping in cars, garages and on the streets, particularly in Auckland. A new poll released on 25th May showed that most New Zealanders (76%) felt that the Government was not doing enough to fix housing problems.
The Government’s response has been to budget for $41.1 million over the next four years to pay for 3000 emergency housing places across the country per year with 60 places being allocated to Wellington. Included in that funding is support for wrap round services for those in need. In addition funding will be provided for a new emergency housing Special Needs Grant to support individuals and families with the cost of emergency accommodation for up to seven days, originally scheduled to be available in September but advanced to July to cater for winter. Up to $5000 may also be available to those experiencing homelessness to move from Auckland to areas such as Lower Hutt where social housing is available. That funding is restricted to 150 applications.
So what is the need? According to Hon. Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Housing, there are about 500 people classified as homeless on a “wait list” for social housing. In Wellington the Home of Compassion Soup Kitchen has estimated “rough – sleepers” to number from 50 to 200. Those seeking assistance over the past couple of months from the Wellington Night Shelter, which can provide up to 45 beds, numbered 37 to 40 men per night for an average occupancy rate of over 85%. During this period no person who sought shelter was denied it due to lack of a bed or inability to pay for it. However admittance of several individuals was denied due to behavioural or other health and safety concerns.
On the face of it, the Wellington Night Shelter does seem to be meeting the immediate emergency needs of men (over 18 years) experiencing homelessness in Wellington. Transitional accommodation is also provided by the Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust, with long term accommodation provided in the main by the Wellington City Council, Housing NZ, and Dwell Housing Trust. It is to these agencies that vulnerable families as well as individuals turn to for assistance.
The allocation of up to 60 emergency places in the budget funding package will enable the dozen or so agencies in Wellington that already provide support in meeting the health and wellbeing needs of those on the streets of Wellington to provide better and more comprehensive wrap round services. We are very fortunate to live in a city where compassion and mercy are shown to those in need and we as Vincentians must play our part.
In particular, please remember that all those people you see on the streets – beggars, including those who may be experiencing homelessness, are on a journey – each with their own thoughts and aspirations and a story to tell. All have suffered deprivation and loss of self esteem. When you see them on the streets make eye contact, acknowledge their existence, ask them how their day is. While material support is important to them, it is more important that you acknowledge their humanity.
John Kennedy-Good, Wellington Area Council President