It is not known how many people are in this situation in Wellington with estimates ranging from 50 to 200, but the issue of homelessness is more complex and a much wider community problem than is generally understood.
The NZ Department of Statistics has a definition of homelessness which reflects this complexity: ‘Homelessness is defined as living situations where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing: are without shelter, in temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household or living in uninhabitable housing.’
In New Zealand there are a number of different situations people find themselves in, which can be defined as ‘homeless’.
People who are sleeping out on the streets are clearly homeless. People who have no security in their housing – such as those staying night by night at a shelter or backpackers – are also homeless. People in this situation have no security of tenure in the same way you would if you were flatting and held a tenancy. This lack of security also applies to people who live in boarding houses.
People living in unsuitable housing are also considered to be homeless. Living in a garage or sleep-out without electricity or water would fall into this category. If someone has no fixed address, but is ‘couch-surfing’ or moving between friends or family members, they also come under the New Zealand definition of homelessness.
It is important to consider the factors behind such homelessness. Many people who experience homelessness in New Zealand have multiple issues and complex needs that have contributed to their homelessness. They may have experienced violence and abuse as a young person or be disconnected from family for other reasons, they may have unmet mental health needs or drug and alcohol addictions, they may have limited education and have been unemployed for extended periods, they may have spent time in prison.
There is often a misconception that people choose to be homeless and that it represents some kind of freedom. In our experience most people we talk with, express a strong desire to be living in their own home.
What are the barriers to achieving housing for all in Wellington?
The main barrier is limitations around the availability of social housing. The Wellington City Council and Housing New Zealand provide accommodation and there are some supported accommodation options, but demand outstrips availability at present. We would like to see a wider range of housing options available which would include transitional, specialist accommodation tailored to the needs of the individual.
Having appropriate accommodation is a basic human right but some people require further support to maintain a tenancy. There are skills involved with maintaining a tenancy, and a set of rules to negotiate that can be challenging for some people. If you have limited literacy skills, reading and understanding a tenancy agreement can be difficult. Many people who experience homelessness have complex needs – physical or mental health needs, or addictions – and they also may need good support with these health issues to be able to keep a flat.
Being homeless can isolate people from Whanau and the wider community while creating a dependence on being part of a homeless or ‘streetie’ community. Being part of a ‘streetie’ community can be a barrier to moving out of homelessness.
The Soup Kitchen is often the first point of contact with an agency for someone experiencing homelessness. Our historical place in the Wellington community is as an entry point to access a safe community to have some basic needs of food and clothing met. At the Soup Kitchen, we provide people with an opportunity to engage with other agencies, for example around accessing health services and housing support.