Long before I entered Parliament, housing and homelessness were issues dear to my heart. I know from personal experience just how hard it is to find an affordable home in Auckland. In my maiden speech, I talked about how when I got priced out of my previous home, it took about 25 viewings for me to able to secure a new place, and I only got that one because it was a house that no-one else wanted. We love our home and are very grateful for it. But I am keenly aware of how many whānau don’t have secure accommodation.
Marama’s Maiden Speech
Since I entered Parliament I have wanted to focus on homelessness, in particular, in my role as the Greens’ spokesperson for Social Housing. As recent media coverage of the issue has highlighted, homelessness is much broader than rough sleeping, it covers all those who are in insecure housing situations. Every night thousands of people are sleeping in garages, cars, in boarding houses and on the streets. That’s not a country that I want to raise my family in.
This week I have been in Auckland visiting organisations and individuals who are all working to end homelessness in Aotearoa. I am very grateful that they gave up their precious time to give me a run-down on their work and their insights into the systemic issues that contribute to homelessness.
The strongest message to come out of all of the meetings was what is needed above anything else is government leadership to initiate a coordinated whole-of-system response to end homelessness. To date, the Government has comprehensively failed to grapple with the systemic issues that result in and perpetuate homelessness.
I was also told that community organisations and volunteers are under huge pressure as their resources are becoming more stretched as they try and help people in desperate need. They are acting as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff by providing emergency shelter, food, clothes and other essentials. They are providing inspiring leadership but are struggling to stay afloat and meet everyone’s needs when the problem is only getting worse.
What was also reinforced by the sector is that there is not nearly enough data and research for us to know the full extent of the problem. I am grateful for recent studies such as Auckland City Mission’s count which has shown rough sleeping in Auckland’s CBD has almost tripled over the last three years, and the University of Otago research which points to a 25% spike in homelessness since 2006. All of the sector groups agreed that even these are likely conservative estimates.
All of the anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that wraparound services are needed to ensure people’s needs are met at every step of their path out of homelessness.
Instead of a coordinated approach, the Government has started suggesting half-baked policy ideas such as offering $5000 for people to move out of Auckland. Never mind whether people have a job, home or family for them to go to. Our political leadership is so out touch that John Key thinks going into WINZ will solve all the problems of those who are homeless.
Last weekend I attended the Park Up For Homes event in Māngere, Auckland, a community-driven action to highlight the scourge of homelessness in our communities. I slept in my van and got a small insight into just how terrible it would be to be in this situation. It was freezing and uncomfortable and I basically got no sleep at all.
This weekend I will also be attending the Ōtara event. I wish I didn’t have to. I would much rather snuggle up with my babies on the couch and watch a movie. But it is so important that we continue to put the pressure on the Government. I realise that I have the privilege of choosing to sleep in my car for one measly night as opposed to having to do it for many nights out of desperation.
I recently asked parliamentary questions to ministers that prove that they have not done any work to quantify the cost of homelessness for taxpayers, despite acknowledging international evidence suggesting there is a high cost, particularly in the health and justice sectors.
The Government does not fund any dedicated mental health wraparound services for people who are homeless. WINZ does not even record if beneficiaries are homeless. The Minister for Māori Development has not undertaken any research into homelessness among Māori, despite recent reports suggesting Māori are over-represented.
After eight years, the Government denies the problem of homelessness, chooses not to research the extent of the problem, and has does nothing to address the problem.
We need to build more houses, we need a policy framework and we need a national strategy to end homelessness now.