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Wellington homelessness severity revealed in new report

The effects of the Wellington housing crisis on the city’s most vulnerable is being laid bare in a new monthly report on homelessness and begging in the city.

Photo: RNZ / forestpath/123RF

The Downtown Community Ministry spoke to 79 taumai – meaning ‘to settle’ – between January and February this year.

Their stories are being reported back to the council as part of a new partnership.

Royce Kaiwai who usually lived in Lower Hutt hasn’t been able to find a place to live, so he’s been told to come to Central Wellington to stay at a shelter.

He has been finding alternative places to sleep at night.

“At the moment I’m sort of couch surfing, I’ll go hang out with mates, maybe crash on the couch, see some family members, but times are getting hard and hoping I won’t be sleeping on the street and asking people for money,” he said.

Mr Kaikai was getting a Work and Income payment but it has not been not enough to cover rent.

Patrick Reid has been issued a month-long ban at the night shelter after getting into a fight and will have no other option than the streets.

After nine years of being without a home, Mr Reid has been put on the waiting list for permanent accommodation.

“Can’t wait to get my own house, me own king-sized bed,” he said smiling.

Downtown Community Ministry director Stephanie McIntyre said many others were in a similar situation.

“What we’re finding, with the 79 people, is in the main they are wanting to house and many of them are waiting for housing on the social housing register hoping to be housed,” she said.

“What this sadly helps us see is the housing crisis is absolutely hitting the most vulnerable people in our city.”

Of those interviewed, 58 taumai were without shelter at some point within the reporting period – nine were rough sleeping when they had a permanent housing alternative.

Ms McIntyre said five taumai experiencing homelessness slept rough when they had a temporary accommodation alternative.

“These are people carrying considerable trauma, with high and complex multiple mental health and substance abuse needs.”

She said they knew there were even more homeless in the city, but this was the first step.

“What’s great about this is we are getting a baseline of real, accurate data and we’ll build from here from the new service,” she said.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester says the new report will help eradicate homelessness. Photo: RNZ – Rebekah Parsons-King

A big election promise for Wellington Mayor Justin Lester was to have a residential facility to meet the needs of those with substance addiction.

Construction is yet to begin and there’s no timeline for completion, but Mr Lester said they were pushing to get work underway.

“We’ve got three sites lines up, Rolleston in Mount Cook we’re looking at 20 supported living units, 40 at Arlington, needing to go through a development programme and likewise we’re looking at really innovative partnership Wellington City Mission who have also acquired some property,” he said.

Mr Lester said they’re working with organisations to provide emergency accommodation, but ultimately long-term solutions needed to be sought- which was why they’d been building new social housing units.

“Emergency housing is a good short-term gap, but it’s not a long-term solution, because if you’re in a bed for a night, or motel accommodation that’s not ideal, it provides a roof under your head which is great, but it’s not a long-term home,” he said.

He said the new reports would help them eradicate the problem by understanding why people were begging and without shelter.

The extent of Wellington homelessness

  • 75 percent of the 79 interviewed experienced some form of homelessness between January and February this year
  • 73 percent were without shelter at some point within the same period – 11 percent rough slept when they were not homeless, meaning, they had a permanent housing alternative
  • Five taumai experiencing homelessness slept rough when they had a temporary accommodation alternative (for example, a room at Easy Access Housing)
  • 27 percent were not without shelter at any point within the period
  • 46 taumai were seen street begging within the period
  • 24 percent were female, of these 74 percent were Māori and 16 percent Pākehā
  • 76 percent were male, of these half were Māori and 35 percent Pākehā

RNZ / Charlie Dreaver