‘Homelessness’ and inadequate housing

‘Homelessness’ has been a hot topic over the last few months, but a lot of political rhetoric gets in the way of an accurate picture. There is a significant difference between homelessness and inadequate housing, but the two are often combined as one problem.

Stuff:  Government ‘failing in most basic duty’ as 24,000 Aucklanders homeless, Labour claims

Labour has hit out at National over rates of homelessness, claiming it is failing in the basic duty of a government.

The allegations come after Auckland Council’s Homelessness Policy Project estimated 24,000 people in the region did not have adequate housing.

Phil Twyford, Labour’s housing spokesman, said the level of homelessness seen in parts of the country used to be something only seen in the United States or Europe.

“After nine years, National’s failure to address the housing crisis means we can no longer we pride ourselves on not leaving Kiwis on the streets.”

This appears disingenuous of Twyford.

Auckland Council’s Homelessness Policy Project, released on Wednesday, showed there were 20,296 people without a house in Auckland in 2013, according to census data.

SO the report is based on four year old data. They problem may well be worse by now, but the report can only guess at that.

Of those, 16,350 were sharing and couch surfing with others temporarily, 3175 were in temporary accommodation such as emergency housing, refugee camps and boarding houses, and 771 were sleeping rough.

Of the “20,296 people without a house” most of them, about three quarters of them, were living in something like a house.

Another 3175 were also accommodated, albeit temporarily. For many that will be inadequate, but they are still ‘housed’.

771 sleeping rough – actually homeless – is a lot, but it is nowhere near 20,000.

Some people choose to sleep rough. I have at times. It didn’t bother me, it was always temporary and I had other options – including staying temporarily with others – but technically I was ‘homeless’ at times.

For some people couch surfing is by choice, especially when travelling. A proportion of couch surfers will be tourists or temporary visitors, as will be some of those house sharing. Technically I’m house sharing with a family at the moment, and have been for over a year, but it’s not inadequate housing, we have the space for it.

But this may be just quibbling over some of the numbers. Except that it’s a pretty big quibble when Twyford refers to those in the ‘inadequate housing’ category as homeless. He is blatantly exaggerating.

There are real problems with housing that are a major concern.

Auckland City Missioner Chris Farrelly said homeless people had a life expectancy that was about 20 years lower than the average life expectancy.

“One person dying on our streets or as a result of homelessness is one too many.”

Farrelly said the deaths of rough sleepers were due to myriad issues such as health problems, poor nutrition and continued exposure to the elements.

“We’ve had some very wet, cold nights in the winter so far and it is heartbreaking to think of people sleeping outside in these conditions.”

Another Labour MP trying to address housing problems – MP camps out to protest pair’s plight

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran has accused the Ministry of Social Development of the ”character assassination” of two homeless Dunedin women, one of whom is pregnant.

Ms Curran is advocating for Kylie Taggart (30) and Amy Stuart (25), who are receiving emergency accommodation in motels.

Ms Curran slept in the Octagon last night in a tent to protest the women’s situation. She said she would sleep there every night until the women had a place to live.

Ms Curran said a lack of state housing and suitable short-term accommodation in Dunedin meant the ministry was relying on motels.

Each week, Miss Taggart and Miss Stuart must reapply for emergency accommodation.

Miss Taggart said she went into early labour last week and was admitted to hospital to be stabilised. She believes the stress of her situation was the cause. She is 26 weeks pregnant and has two other children in her care, while Miss Stuart has a 3-year-old daughter.

Both say they are trying hard to comply with the rules but feel harassed and belittled by Work and Income.

They were doing their best to provide a stable environment for their children in difficult circumstances.

But as is often the case this isn’t a simple story.

The Ministry of Social Development issued a statement on Friday that appeared to blame the women.

”We have been supporting both these mums with emergency housing special needs grants to ensure that they are not forced to sleep rough.

”They didn’t need to pay this money back; the priority was responding to an emergency need.

”One of the challenges we face is when clients repeatedly exhibit behaviour that makes them unattractive to landlords and many motel owners.

”What is really unfortunate is when the behaviour of some people not only affects them, but everyone in need. ‘In this case there is now two motels in Dunedin that are not willing to take any client referred by Work and Income.

”As a result the support now provided to both these women will need to be repaid,” the statement says.

Ms Curran said the women deny claims of antisocial behaviour.

But from a report on RNZ: Dunedin MP camps out in Octagon to highlight homelessness

Documents obtained by Checkpoint show landlords have taken the two women to the tenancy tribunal six times for not paying rent and damaging property.

The Social Development Ministry said it had not given up on the women, and that they had a high priority rating, but were difficult to house.

Ms Curran said the two women were forced into emergency accommodation because they have spent time in women’s refuges.

So it sounds like partners have been a part of the problem.

But it also sounds like the women have not been model tenants either.

RNZ: In a statement a short time ago the Ministry of Social Development says the two women have a high priority rating, but because they’ve repeatedly exhibited unattractive antisocial behaviour to both landlords and hotel owners, it’s been difficult to find them permanent accommodation in Dunedin.

And the Ministry’s Southern Regional Commissioner says “Following events overnight yet another motel is not willing to house one of the women, and only late today a short term alternative was found.”

“The people we work with often have a number of hurdles to overcome, and many lead chaotic lives.”

Money is obviously a major issue, but some people been put in bad situations, or have put themselves in bad situations, making accommodation difficult.

Difficult situations for some people for sure, but finding long term solutions can also be difficult.

Politicians overstating statistics doesn’t help, although I think credit is due to Curran for what she is trying to do.

State of emergency on homelessness?

Following up on his call for a state of emergency on homelessness on Q & A this morning Labour spokesperson on housing Phil Twyford has followed up with a media release:

Labour calls for state of emergency on homelessness

Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford is calling on the Government to declare a state of emergency over the nation’s homelessness crisis.

“There are 42,000 people homeless and living in severe housing stress while the National Government behaves like a possum in the headlights. It is time to declare a state of emergency and treat this crisis with the urgency it deserves.

Q & A – homeless people, sex offenders and Wellington mayoralty

Today on Q & A:

Where should the Corrections Department house sex offenders?

This week, a Lower Hutt community won its fight to have a sex offender moved from their neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, one south Auckland community has been fighting for the removal of a high risk sex offender from their neighbourhood but to no avail. We go back to Mangere and talk to a young solo-mother of three who fears for her children’s safety as the sex offender lives over her backyard fence.

Jessica Mutch interviews Corrections Minister Judith Collins on the best way to rehabilitate sex offenders and keep communities safe?

This was an informative interview detailing the intent and current practice of Community Protection orders.

Homeless people:

Plus Katie Bradford visits the small tourist town of Taupo with a big city problem – a growing number of homeless people. She finds a community rallying around to help out. Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford joins us live to discuss the issues.

Twyford says that the Government should declare a state of emergency as there is a social housing crisis.

National politics in Wellington mayoralty:

Whena Owen looks at the contest to be Wellington’s mayor – and why central government politicians have got involved too.

 

John Key on Q&A

John Key was interviewed by Corin Dann on Q&A this morning.

Terrific, probing interview by but I think the PM handled it well.

One News:John Key admits homelessness has risen on his watch

John Key says his government is working on many initiatives to combat homelessness, conceding that the issue has risen to prominence during his time as prime minister.

“Do you accept homelessness has risen on your watch?” ONE News Political Editor Corin Dann asked.

Mr Key agreed, but also defended his government.

“Yes, there are more people but equally we are also implementing a very significant plan,” he said.

“There’s no question that if house prices rise and if pressure goes on rents it has a significant impact on those most marginalised, not just those who are homeless.”

One News: John Key on Aus election: ‘Winning ugly is better than losing tidy’

John Key says the outcome of Australia’s election is important for New Zealand, and that Malcolm Turnbull’s biggest challenge is not election night, but about getting on and delivering results.

The New Zealand Prime Minister says on the basis that the Coaltion has the majority, he hopes Mr Turnbull will put his best foot forward.

“We need Australia over the next three years to be a strong and vibrant economy, they’re our biggest trading partner, it’s important to us,” Mr Key told ONE News Political Editor Corin Dann, live on TVNZ’s Q+A programme this morning.

Mr Key likened an election to a rugby world cup, saying it’s not about how you win, it’s about getting results once elected.

“Winning ugly is better than losing tidy.”

Video of interview (17:48)

 

Laughing at the homeless?

There was a bit of a flap on Twitter yesterday when John Key and David Seymour were accused of laughing at the homeless.

The series of questions and answers in Question Time show Key responding reasonably seriously to questions and assertions by Andrew Little.

The final question by Seymour “Does this Government have a policy for people who appear homeless but are actually just renovating?” was an attempt to laugh at Labour’s botched attempt to photo-op Little with people who were allegedly living in a tent.

Yes it’s reasonable to criticise Seymour and Key for trivialising a serious and issue that is difficult to deal with.

But I think it’s also reasonable to criticise Little’s attempts to use the situation of homeless people and people in difficult living situations to try to score political points.

Making over the top statements like “when it is time to get real, grow up, and take responsibility for the homelessness crisis that has exploded on his and Bill English’s watch” make it easy for Key and the Government to bat off Little’s lines of attack.

In his speech at the Green AGM Little said:

Just look at the issue of rising homelessness we are now confronted with.

More than 40,000 people sleeping in cars, in garages, in severely overcrowded houses. Sleeping on the street.

Children as young as 11 living under bushes in South Auckland.

That’s not New Zealand. That’s not the country we are proud of.

And the Government’s only response, when not blaming others, is blaming homeless people themselves.

So this week they say the homeless don’t want to be helped, they quite like being homeless.

It’s valid to criticise the Government for not doing enough or not doing the right things to address homeless and housing problems, but making obviously incorrect and misleading claims doesn’t make a good case and makes it easy to laugh off the partisan attacks

Transcript:

[Sitting date: 07 June 2016. Volume:714;Page:4. Text is subject to correction.]

1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements on housing?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, at the time I made them.

Andrew Little: In his statement that “this Government is not prepared to turn its back on our most vulnerable citizens when they most need our help”, how is it that there are nearly 42,000 homeless people, including 4,000 sleeping rough, in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot verify the numbers that the member has just stated, and I doubt whether they are correct. The Government, as the member will have seen in the Budget, has put considerably more resources into that area, and that is just one of the examples of the actions that we have taken.

Andrew Little: Why will he not apologise to the Salvation Army and the 42,000 homeless New Zealanders for weakening the army’s ability to assist them with his false claim that the homeless do not want help?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think that is the point that the Salvation Army was making. I think it was making the point that it does not go out with the Ministry of Social Development.

Andrew Little: Why are marae and private donors left doing the job that his out-of-touch Government is failing to do: housing, feeding, and helping dozens of homeless families?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government spends an enormous amount of resources helping New Zealanders, including the most vulnerable. It spends up to $2 billion a year on income-related rents and other support. There has always been, for a very long period of time, over successive Governments, a range of organisations that give support to those most in need.

Andrew Little: Does he accept that Paula Bennett is out of touch on homelessness after spending the last week backpedalling from her admission that homeless people face a crisis?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.

Andrew Little: Does he accept that Nikki Kaye is out of touch when she claims that homeless people pop into her office all the time just to tell her that they do not need any help?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but I do accept that if the member keeps going the way he is at the moment, he may well be out of a job.

Andrew Little: Does he accept that Chester Borrows is out of touch when he wants media to now conduct background checks on any homeless person who has the temerity to speak out about his Government’s hopeless policies on homelessness?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.

Andrew Little: Why are he and his Ministers running around blaming the homeless when it is time to get real, grow up, and take responsibility for the homelessness crisis that has exploded on his and Bill English’s watch?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We are not.

David Seymour: Does this Government have a policy for people who appear homeless but are actually just renovating?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but maybe we should get one.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Mr Robertson.

 

On John Key lying

There was comment here yesterday on whether John Key lied or not over claims that Government officials visited homeless people with the Salvation Army in Auckland. The Salvation army denied the visits had taken place as described.

Social media jumped on the ‘Key lied’ bandwagon.

So did Andrew Little: Andrew Little: Prime Minister John Key ‘patently lied’ about homeless comments

Labour leader Andrew Little has accused the Prime Minister John Key of lying in comments he made about homeless people.

“I can’t think of a time when the Prime Minister and another minister [have] patently lied about something that … hasn’t actually happened,” Mr Little told reporters at Parliament this afternoon.

The Labour leader made the allegation after Salvation Army contradicted a claim by Mr Key that Government officials had visited homeless in an Auckland park this week and had their offers of help declined.

I didn’t jump in to this story because I wanted to see what facts actually emerged. I don’t know that we have the whole story yet.

Mr Key said yesterday that some people who were approached in Bruce Pullman Park in Takanini on Monday night declined offers of help.

“MSD and the Sallies went around and knocked on eight cars that they could find,” he said.

“All eight of those people refused to take support either from Sallies or MSD.”

In a statement today, the Salvation Army said they turned down an offer by MSD to accompany them to the park, which was one of its regular visits to the site.

“[The Prime Minister’s] statements are incorrect,” the charity said.

“The Salvation Army declined the offer by MSD officials to accompany The Salvation Army as some of these people are very wary of Government officials.

“The results of this statement, as well as recent images of homeless people living in dire material hardship disseminated by the media, have deeply upset these people and have put the relationship between them and Salvation Army personnel in jeopardy, weakening the Army’s ability to assist them.”

“The Salvation Army has spent years developing relationships and building trust with these people living on the outer margins of society — people who often have a deep distrust of officials.”

I think it’s reasonable to tale the word of the Salvation Army, in which case it appears that Key was wrong.

But that doesn’t mean he lied, and I would be very surprised if he deliberately lied about something like this.

It’s absurd to think Key would concoct a story like this out of nothing to deliberately mislead.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key said his comments were based on advice that was given to him.

“The point he was making is that people have been approached and offered assistance and a large number of them have refused,” the spokeswoman said.

So I think it is most likely that Key misunderstood what he was advised or he was given incorrect or misleading information.

Of course this hasn’t stopped the Twitterati and others from claiming that Key is throwing Paula Bennett under a bus or throwing officials under a bus. Many people have been trying to portray Key as an inveterate liar for a long time.

Martyn Bradbury at The Daily Blog: Key just lies about the Salvation Army helping the homeless for him – media ask him if he’d shoot a gorilla

So when Key claimed his Ministry Officials and Salvation Army advocates went out to ‘help’ the homeless, it turns out he was lying…

Some have taken a more reasonable approach, like Mickysavage at The Standard in Salvation Army contradicts Key’s homelessness claims:

Key ought to apologise to the Salvation Army and to the homeless people, preferably personally.  And he should get his facts right before commenting.

Fair enough, I think an apology is justified. But some of the comments that followed were typical of common left wing lines of attack:

save nz:

This government are serial liars and every statement seems to harm someone, even damaging the relationships and reputation of the Salvation Army.

Lanthanide:

Key only apologises to Slater.

Wensleydale:

Oh, look, John Key’s telling lies again. Well, I never!

Andrew Little:

“I can’t think of a time when the Prime Minister and another minister [have] patently lied about something that … hasn’t actually happened,”

Ok, that last comment wasn’t at The Standard but it is along the same lines of attack.

I hope Key does publicly apologise to the Salvation Army for getting things wrong on a very sensitive and difficult to deal with topic. But I won’t hold my breath.

The overreaction from the left once again makes it easier for Key to bat this away as just more over the top petty attacks, which is a shame as it gets him off the hook when the issue of homeless people deserves serious attention.

Key has done some harm through what appear to be inaccurate comments, and he should do what he can to rectify that.

Little’s response was disappointing but unfortunately that adds to a disappointing  performance in general.

The shrill shills on the left are probably doing more harm to the homelessness issue by trying to turn this into just another key bashing exercise.

And they are doing more harm to their powerlessness issue as well.