by Jan Logie
While official statistics on the number of homeless people in New Zealand do not exist, it is estimated to be in the thousands – this includes not just those living on the street, but also people in drop-in centres, women’s refuges, couch surfing and those in dilapidated dwellings without access to vital utilities such as power and water. It was not until 2009 that Statistics New Zealand developed a definition of homelessness, and while the 2013 Census is expected to provide more data, even then we will not have a full and definitive picture.
As a society, we need to commit to ensuring that everyone has safe and affordable housing. The Green Party has a range of policies which would help to resolve the crisis of unaffordable housing, an important first step in enabling everyone to have access to shelter.
We need to support groups like the Auckland City Mission and others around the country who are doing important work to help provide shelter and services to those who are currently homeless. Meanwhile, groups like the NZ Coalition to End Homelessness are working on longer term plans alongside local and central government, businesses, the tangata whenua community and voluntary sector groups to end homelessness across the country.
Last year my colleague Gareth Hughes supported a call for an inquiry into homelessness in the Social Services Select Committee, however the Government refused to hold the inquiry, a shameful move that only further delayed any possibility for the creation of crucial cross-agency work on this issue.
People without a fixed abode also face difficulty getting support from Work & Income as they need to provide an address in order to get benefits and other assistance. If you don’t have a permanent address, that adds another level of difficulty to get the financial assistance from WINZ that you need in order to be able to find somewhere to live. This catch-22 only further hurts those who need our help to get back on their own feet the most.
Homelessness does immense harm, not only to those living on the streets, but to society as a whole. It costs us financially in increased hospital admissions and crime. It costs us morally, and as long as we continue leave citizens behind, the whole of New Zealand loses out.