Looking after our homeless – how do we measure up?

Mahatma Gandhi believed that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.

How is New Zealand doing? In 2001 one person out of 130 was homeless, in 2006 that grew to one in 121 and in 2013 one in 102. Three years on in 2016, during winter, the Salvation Army provided 13,981 food parcels to 10,022 families, this included 4,013 first time clients. And this is when the media started to shout about this growing issue.

So why as a wider society were we slow to wake up to the growing issue? Many of us measure homelessness by the number of beggars on the street we see as we walk to work but we are not exposed to the hidden homelessness of people who sleep in cars, garages, shelters and overcrowded or substandard houses. I definitely do not get the full picture during my walk up Shortland Street every morning.

And while yes, there are a small portion of homeless who choose to be; many have found themselves in this situation because of mental health issues, poor budgeting, illiteracy and addiction. As a result, those that find themselves homeless require a higher degree of social support, necessitating a comprehensive joint response from more than one agency to ensure the best results are achieved for our most vulnerable.

At the recent Community Housing Aotearoa Conference Hurimoana Nui Dennis spoke from Te Puea Marae. The marae developed an indigenous homeless service delivery model, which engaged the right people to achieve positive outcomes for those with the highest housing social need. They worked with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to ensure they had access to Emergency Housing, then enlisted the further support of 1200 volunteers and received donations of food, clothing and household appliances. The wrap-around support continued with follow-ups and advocacy. Of the 181 in the programme, including 104 children, 130 have been placed in to social housing of private dwellings.

This week in the Hawke’s Bay Today there was another working partnership celebrated between MSD and the Salvation Army. Here the Salvation Army are assisting with food, clothing, budgeting and life skills throughout the Hawke’s Bay region.

The focus across Government and the Community Housing Sector is to develop a housing strategy that ensures we work together towards the same goal. Everyone has a role to play in addressing the housing crisis. Even TPG is playing a part, working with MSD and Community Housing Providers throughout New Zealand to assist with housing our most vulnerable members of society.

There is plenty more to be done, but we are seeing some innovative and successful models coming out of the Community Housing Sector. Addressing homelessness is a complex issue which is a wider issue than simply providing a roof over people’s heads. We need to ensure we are learning from our successes and failures to ensure we are supporting our most vulnerable.