Need for emergency housing up

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by Greta Yeoman

The need for housing in South Canterbury is increasing, social agencies say.

Salvation Army Timaru corps officer Jacob Howan said the organisation had put someone up in a motel twice in 2016, but this jumped to 10 times last year.

The Salvation Army had already provided emergency motel accommodation seven times this year, Lieutenant Howan said.

While the organisation was not entirely sure what was causing the need for emergency housing, many people they supported got “taken over” by the cost of living, Lt Howan said.

Paying for a motel room for those needing emergency housing was a last option for the Salvation Army, he said.

“The fact we’ve had this increase means we’re seeing more emergencies.”

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Scott Gallacher said the first option for the ministry when people sought support was to find them a place in public or transitional housing or a private rental.

The ministry did offer an emergency housing special needs grant when this was not possible, however, which helped individuals or families with the cost of staying in short-term rentals, Mr Gallacher said.

From October 1 to December 31 last year, the ministry supported six households in Timaru with $10,431 of emergency housing grants.

In the quarter from January to March this year, the figure was so small the ministry opted not to publish it to protect the privacy of clients, Mr Gallacher said.

However, the figures between April and June this year were predicted to be higher than previously, though they would not be officially released until next month.

“Indications are that we have supported a higher number of households with these grants than previously.”

Lt Howan said the organisation had funds set aside to provide accommodation and the sharp increase in emergency motel costs had not cut into any other programme funds yet.

“[We do] have to keep an eye on our general budget.”

The Salvation Army had already seen the usual winter increase in people needing food parcels, while donations of firewood from Rotary and other volunteers had been gratefully received, he said.

Anglican Care South Canterbury social justice advocate Ruth Swale said she knew of several people either sleeping rough or in “precarious living situations” such as an entire family sleeping in someone’s lounge.

While most of her clients were supported by the Anglican Care advocacy group for issues other than housing, the group members often found out about their clients’ housing circumstances during conversations.

“There’s a lot of people living in unsettled housing [situations].”

While there had been talk between social agencies for more than a decade about providing a night shelter in Timaru, nothing had come of it, she said.

“They all see the need .. [but] no-one’s got the resources.”

Presbyterian Support South Canterbury chief executive Carolyn Cooper said while it was not an area the organisation worked in, the staff did know what options were available and referred people on to other agencies.

“We do know that it’s a problem.”