Salvation Army survey finds 568 children living in cars, garages, campervans and motels in Auckland; it calls for Govt to build 1,000 new social houses a year for 10 years; wants housing for kids as right in law

By Bernard Hickey

The Salvation Army has published a report on homelessness in Auckland that includes a survey conducted over the last year that found 568 children were living in cars, garages, campgrounds, motels or were couch-surfing with friends and family.

The 49 page report, titled ‘Invisible in the SuperCity: hidden homelessness in Auckland’, was based around a survey of people who had approached the Salvation Army and the Catholic Church’s De Paul House for help with housing. The eleven-question survey was conducted three times for a month each over November 2014, February 2015 and May 2015 and 394 surveys involving 1,202 people were completed.

It found 634 adults and 568 children were in various states of homelessness around Auckland, with Manukau and Royal Oak showing the greatest need.

The survey asked where respondents had spent the last night and where they expected to spend the next night.

It found 13% or 151 people had slept overnight in a car, a garage or outside, including 65 children.

Overall the survey found 568 children were suffering some degree of homelessness, with 247 bunking down with family or friends, 25 in backpackers or boarding houses, 15 in camping grounds, 30 in cars, 22 in motels and 22 in garages.

“The social housing needed by these people is not currently available in sufficient quantity and present Government actions are not delivering sufficient affordable homes,” said Major Sue Hay, the Director of The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit.

Hay said it was common for families to be homeless for up to six months and more than 49% of respondents had not been in touch with the Ministry of Social Development, which is the agency now responsible for Social Housing after Housing NZ was stripped of the role last year.

“We hope by publicising the situation of these children and their families in this report, the Government and local authorities will be spurred to act with more urgency than we are currently seeing,” she said.

The Salvation recommended the Government develop a programme to supply an extra 1,000 social houses a year for the next 10 years in Auckland, or until waiting lists fell to less than 100. The waiting list for families needing housing in Auckland was 2,172 at the time the report was written.

It also recommended the right to adequate shelter for children should be codified into law in some way.

“In addition to the codification of the right to shelter it is also important to have a system that ensures accountability,” the report’s author Reina Tuai Harris wrote.

“As a nation, we place importance on education, ensuring there is a legal requirement for children to go to school. We also place importance on health, ensuring (despite issues of access) that we have universal health care,” Harris said.

“Yet it does not seem logical that although we understand that housing is crucial to both health and education, the State does not ensure in law that adequate shelter is available for children.”

The Salvation Army recommended the development of a cross-party agreement for a national housing strategy and targets.

It also said funding for emergency housing should be increased and there should be increased contracting to organisations able to build and manage affordable rentals for low-income households.

Political reaction

The Green Party called on the Government to uphold its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and increase the supply of state homes in Auckland.

“There are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who have been left out of National’s ‘rock star’ economy, and rising homelessness is just one result of that,” Green Housing spokeswoman Marama Davidson said.

“If parents and caregivers are struggling to make a decent living and can’t afford to rent or buy in Auckland, then it’s no wonder that children are being forced to sleep in cars or on the streets,” Davidson said.

“There are more than 2,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in Auckland alone and these are just the people who have registered for help. There’s bound to be thousands more who have no contact at all with state services and are out there living on the streets, without the help and resources they desperately need,” she said.

“The Government could use its access to low-cost finance to fund the building of more state homes and more affordable homes – that’s the only way we’re going to get our people off the streets and into housing.”

Labour Housing spokesman Phil Twyford called on the Government to scrap the flag referendum to use the funds to deal with the housing crisis, and to stop selling state houses.

“This report is a damning indictment on the Government’s failure to address the Auckland housing crisis. It directly cites the shortage of affordable housing in low income areas as a cause of homelessness,” Twyford said.

“We know how to solve homelessness – you provide houses for people to live in and support services for the homeless to get their lives back on track. All that is missing is the political will of the Government,” he said.

“Paula Bennett should stop tinkering at the margins and commit to a nationwide strategy to end homelessness.”