Jo Cribb: Government officials are making homelessness worse, now they have to help the people they hurt


Until officials and ministers stop focusing on narrow funding bands and siled action plans, and start focusing on people, little will change in the fight against homelessness.

Opinion: Sitting in front of the fire last Sunday evening, with a glass of red, roasted in the slow cooker, the television news in the background. Pretty cool storyline.

Except when the news item tells you that 480 people registered in the HLM register declared at the time of their request that their current accommodation was their car. And that’s up from 108 in 2017.

When the Auckland City Mission says they usually get around 15 calls a month saying people are sleeping in cars or on the streets, but recently this has increased to around 15 calls a week.

When a youth worker says the number is likely to be much higher because so many homeless people are invisible to the system and young people choose their car over emergency housing because it’s safer .

We see it firsthand at the Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust, which I chair.

We know that some are homeless because they cannot afford housing. The offer is not there, the cost is too high. The solutions for this group will be increased supply at an affordable price.

But we also know that for many, finding safe and affordable housing is just one of the many challenges they face, along with mental and physical health issues and addiction issues.

These are the women we warmly welcome to our wharf.

The solutions for this group will not only be increased supply of affordable housing, but also the comprehensive support services they need.

Yet, as a housing provider, we are funded to provide a bed with minimal staff overhead.

But we choose to do more than that. Through fundraising, we provide counseling services and a therapeutic social work program. Thanks to the generosity of incredible community organizations, there is always nutritious food at our dock. Thanks to a generous grant, we can provide dental care for our women – many of whom are in need of dental care for the first time.

While housing ministers, particularly the minister responsible for homelessness, are urged to push forward, the issues for many are not just about rent prices and supply. This is an extended mental health service. It is about access to basic health services. This is an effective transition out of prison. And more.

Until officials and ministers stop focusing on narrow funding buckets and siled action plans, and start focusing on humans, especially the 480s sleeping in their cars, little will change.

Researchers from He Kāinga Oranga, University of Otago, Wellington would go further to say that some homelessness is even caused by civil servants and government policy.

Their study found that homeless women had multiple interactions with government agencies. The women did not suddenly become homeless and were not “hard to reach”. They have systematically approached government agencies with unmet needs, mostly related to poverty, which have led them to homelessness.

At the Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust, like many other community organizations across New Zealand, we will continue to do what is necessary for the women who stay with us.

However, it would be much easier if we weren’t fighting against a system that, at worst, is contributing to the problem.

Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust; on Facebook and Instagram.

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