Monday 10 October 2022

Our dream for an end to homelessness

Today on World Homeless Day, while many New Zealanders are waking up warm, safe and secure in their home, thousands of other people are not.

As the leader of Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai I see every day the negative impact of people not having a place to call home. People live on the streets, in a car, at a motel or boarding house or in a house meant for three people but with 10 people in it.

I also see every day the undoubtedly positive impact of someone moving into their permanent home.

At last count, there were 26,664 (MSD, June 2022) applicants on the social housing register – thousands of families and individuals waiting for that security and safety.

As a country we must, can and will do better. I believe we will. We must.

Homelessness is not something that happens to “someone else”. There is no “them”, no “us”, but a “we”.

People suffering the reality of homelessness are just like me or you. It’s just that life has involved extremely challenging circumstances, without adequate resources to overcome that.

Some of us need to leave home to escape a dangerous domestic situation. Others have debilitating physical or mental health issues leaving little ability to work. When a person loses a job and has no reserves to pay the rent, the street or an emergency motel is often the only other option.

Homelessness affects every part of a person’s life – physical and mental health, relationships, and opportunities.

It becomes impossible to plan or organise anything because there is no way of knowing – simple things become complicated. Feeling unsafe – being unsafe – is constant and overwhelming. The sense of shame and powerlessness is crippling.

People living on the street, or in emergency accommodations, aren’t there by choice.

A complex set of circumstances creates a difficult, painful existence that no person should ever have to endure.

At the Mission, we dream of an Aotearoa where everyone has a warm, safe and sustainable home. We yearn for a place where everybody thrives. I know we join with many other New Zealanders who have this same dream.

While the Mission team sees the suffering of many years of neglect, we also see opportunities for healing and transformation. We provide people “living rough” with immediate access to shelter, kai and healthcare while seeking homes – offering immediate relief and hope for a good future.

For some people, the path to a permanent home is linear but for most, it’s not.

The difficult circumstances that lead people to experience homelessness often take years to resolve yet immediate help is needed.

That’s where emergency housing has a place but it’s not a long– or even medium–term solution.

Living in motels is difficult. People should not be placed in them for long periods, yet there are not enough houses available for every person who needs one.

Good-quality social housing needs to be built or acquired quickly across the country. This is not new – we’re trying to catch up on a decades-old issue so everyone who needs a safe home has that basic human right met.

We will do better.

Earlier this year, the Mission opened HomeGround in Auckland’s city centre. It offers 80 apartments for those in greatest need of a permanent and safe home. The 11-storey building is also a place where a person in need of support can access kai, healthcare and connection. It’s a New Zealand first.

Our dream is that it’s not the last.

However, the Mission and similar agencies need our entire community’s skill, experience and collective will to create a better future for all.

The wish list is long: from more socially empathetic landlords, property developers creating social housing and mental health specialists to higher benefit levels.

Simply, we need a greater number of people who understand and are willing.

We know this is good for all of society, not only people currently experiencing homelessness. There will be more opportunities for employment and engagement alongside less reliance on hospitals, police and other public systems.

Today, on World Homeless Day, a challenge is laid down to us all. What can you do to make this dream of a country where we all have a home, a reality? Whether you are an individual with resources to gift time or money to agencies like the Mission, a property development company, a politician or simply genuinely interested in a compassionate society, you are the difference Aotearoa needs.

Helen Robinson,  Manutaki – Auckland City Missioner

*This article was also published on the New Zealand Herald, here.