A young South Auckland Māori woman recently tried to get hold of me around midnight. I missed her call. The woman wanted me to know the sharp reality facing too many families looking for a stable place to live. Things had arrived at the point where this woman was faced with taking her children into emergency housing. When she arrived at the boarding house, she took one look at the condition of it and then bundled her children straight back into the car because the room was dirty, rough and infested with cockroaches. In that moment, she knew it was better for her and her children’s spirits to sleep in the car than to tolerate even one night in that boarding house.
In the past year, at least nine of my close friends have been without their own home – “homeless”. They happen to all be Māori women with children. They have lived in garages, have been taken in by other families to overcrowd their homes or have endured spirit-breaking emergency accommodation.
They are some of the thousands of families without stable housing in this country. They are not just Māori and they aren’t just in Auckland. This problem is impacting disproportionately on Māori and Pacific families but also on lower income people including those in paid employment, from all backgrounds and across the entire country.
Alongside what my own friends are experiencing, there are too many more living rough on the streets, under city bridges, and pitching tents in urban parks and bushes. In just three years, rough sleeping in Auckland’s CBD has nearly tripled.
The Prime Minister’s solution has been to tell people to get to the Work and Income office.
But what he failed to acknowledge was that many of these people have already tried ALL avenues to seek help and sleeping in cars or squashing in with other families is the last resort. The Prime Minister gave an ignorant and inconsiderate response to a crisis that threatens to derail the stability of our country and needs urgent political leadership.
This mess has not happened overnight; wages and benefits have not kept up with the cost of living and rising rents, there has been an aggressive drive to cut and remove people’s benefits. For eight years the National Government has denied opportunity to those with the most to gain from it, scapegoating society’s problems on the most marginalised in society. I am embarrassed by what New Zealand has become.
Real political leadership would put families first. Real leadership would discourage the buying up of houses as a speculative business; homes are for people to live in, not for profit at the expense of all else. Real leadership would actually invest in building more state homes. Real leadership would be to go and see for yourself what exactly is going on with our families, our children, and our elderly – our New Zealanders.
Real leadership would acknowledge the absolutely vital role of government in implementing a whole of system approach to end homelessness; ensuring that government agencies, local government and the community sector are offering a coordinated response to the complex structural issue that is homelessness.
In failing the most vulnerable, the National Government has failed all of us.
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