by Greta Yeoman
Those involved in social services are hoping the Government’s plan to get homeless residents into accommodation will include South Canterbury.
The Government recently announced its $100million package to get homeless New Zealanders into housing this winter, including extra funding for the Housing First programme to extend from the main centres into the regions.
HNZ applications increase
Applications to the social housing register have increased, figures released this week show.
Application numbers had increased around South Canterbury and North Otago between December 31 last year and March 31 this year, jumping from 36 to 46 in Timaru and from 11 to 20 in Waitaki.
There were still no applicants in the Mackenzie district, and Waimate’s applicant list was redacted, due to the small number.
The data showed there were 112 public housing tenancies in the Waitaki district, up from 110 since the end of last year; while 22 Waimate tenants were in state housing, down one.
Timaru had 103 public housing tenancies, which was five fewer than the end of 2017.
Mackenzie’s state housing tenancy data was redacted due to the small number.
South Canterbury Salvation Army corps officer Emma Howan said there were various levels of “homelessness” in the region.
“We see the whole lot.”
Lieutenant Howan said while the organisation’s Timaru branch had supported about 50 people in the past year with issues to do with housing, about nine residents and their families had been helped to find emergency accommodation.
This included the Salvation Army paying for families to be put up in motels around Timaru while a more permanent housing solution could be found.
Anglican Care social justice advocate Ruth Swale said in her four years in her role she had supported South Canterbury residents who were at the “extreme” end of homelessness – sleeping on the streets or in their cars – but there were also many people in “precarious” living arrangements.
“[We] see a lot of it.”
She had worked with people who were temporarily sleeping on couches in the living rooms of friends or family members, sometimes by themselves or with partners and children.
“It’s still homelessness.”
Announcing the scheme, Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said homelessness was at the “sharp end” of a national housing crisis that had developed over the past decade.
Mr Twyford said while New Zealand needed more houses and the Government was working on that, it was also making sure there were temporary options available.
“Our Government will make sure everyone is helped to find warm, dry housing this winter.”
Mr Twyford estimated that by the end of winter there would be more than 1500 additional transitional, public and Housing First places for homeless residents across the country.
The Courier was seeking information from the Ministry of Social Development on which regions would be part of the Housing First programme, outside Auckland, Christchurch, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington and Lower Hutt.
Lt Howan said the main cause for people’s housing issues seemed to be the cost of living.
As rental prices increased, so had the costs associated with living – including heating, power bills and food costs.
She had encountered low-income families who may have been able to pay for their housing costs, particularly power costs over winter, but had needed food parcel support from the Salvation Army, as they had run out of money for food.
Presbyterian Support South Canterbury chief executive Carolyn Cooper also said rising rental costs were causing issues for many Timaru residents.
“What we know is that affordable rental accommodation is increasingly hard to find.”
While the organisation had not dealt with any people living on the streets, it did know of several families supported by PSSC services who were sharing houses, she said.
Mrs Cooper also reminded people that they could give items to the foodbank if they wanted to support their fellow residents over winter, particularly cans of baked beans and spaghetti or breakfast cereal – “just something to warm you up and fill you up”, she said.
Lt Howan also wanted residents to remember that while Christmas was often the time when people remembered to give, winter was a difficult time for many and donations were always welcome for the organisation’s foodbank.
“Year on year [the foodbank] has got busier.”
As The Courier reported in March, Timaru is set to get nine new state houses under Government plans to build 150 houses across the country.
The one- and two-bedroom dwellings would add to the 410 state housing properties already in Timaru, a Housing New Zealand spokesman said at the time.