Numbers of homeless in Tauranga unacceptable, says health boss

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They call themselves the upper-class homeless. Some have jobs. Some have children. Others have come to Tauranga in search of a better life. But all share one thing in common - they can't find a home. Instead they are living in cars, garages or tents, or sharing with family or friends. So what is being done about it? We investigate a growing social crisis which one Tauranga health boss is calling 'diabolical'.

Desperate families are living in cars, garages and tents as Tauranga's housing crisis reaches "diabolical" levels.

Examples include a family with a 4-year-old in a car for six weeks and a pregnant woman with her preschooler in a van at Mount beach. Some have children at school. One is a 49-year-old full-time call-centre worker with two children at university. Some are homeless because they could not afford a rent rise or their landlord sold. Some have come to Tauranga in search of a better life.

A Bay of Plenty Times investigation into the problem has resulted in a special week-long series titled "Our Hidden Homeless", which begins today. We will talk to people who have ended up homeless, those trying to help, canvass viewpoints, talk to business and community leaders, and examine potential solutions.

We can also reveal details of how social agency Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services is establishing emergency accommodation in the central city to house up to three families in the next two weeks (see story, below).

Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation chief executive Roger Taylor. Photo/John Borren
Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation chief executive Roger Taylor. Photo/John Borren

Te Tuinga Whanau executive director Tommy Wilson said the accommodation would help "broken families and put them back together".

The Bay of Plenty District Health Board has also created a CARE4KIDS fund as part of the charitable Tauranga Hospital Trust Fund and it will be ring-fenced for homeless families.

A room at the hospital will stock basic necessities such as blankets, dressing gowns and slippers. A dedicated Facebook page, Hononga, has been set up (See factbox for details).

Roger Taylor, chief executive of the Western Bay Primary Health Organisation, described the homeless situation as "diabolical".

Read more: Bay trust donates homes for homeless families

"Having children sleeping in cars, if they are lucky to be in a car, in a park, with their parents not able to feed them, take them to school or get them to access healthcare - if that is not a crisis then I don't know what is," Mr Taylor said. He appealed to the community to take action and ask itself hard questions.

"To have future generations in cars in the Bay at numbers which are rising is unacceptable for the future of New Zealand. What happened to the Kiwi psyche that we allow this? To what degree are we not showing an interest in the children of this bloody country?

"People can distance themselves and say 'oh they are druggies, oh they make poor life choices'. Yes, there may be one or two of those cases, but that is not a fair characterisation of these homeless families at all.

"Where is the level of disgust that, as a country, we have allowed this to emerge? International history shows that if an underclass develops in a community it develops a culture, it takes on a lifestyle and world view that doesn't sit with the mainstream. So, even if you only care about your house prices, doing nothing about the kids in cars in Fergusson Park will mean an underclass will be sustained and locked in Tauranga. Then doing something about it will be impossible."

To have future generations in cars in the Bay at numbers which are rising is unacceptable for the future of New Zealand. What happened to the Kiwi psyche that we allow this? To what degree are we not showing an interest in the children of this bloody country?
Roger Taylor

There is no register of homeless families and the Bay of Plenty Times has learned of some concerning aspects to this issue, which we will cover in the coming days. Bay health bosses, including Mr Taylor, plan to tackle the problem.

Read more: Big Read: Family of three lived in car for six weeks

Bay of Plenty DHB chief operating officer Pete Chandler said frontline health staff, GPs and Bay schools had been aware of the increasing number of homeless Bay children for more than a year but it was unclear exactly how many families were affected.

He raised his concerns with DHB chief executive Helen Mason and chairperson Sally Webb this week, and the board would be forming a response.

He had also been talking to a number of agencies and exchanging information. He also learned of a case involving a 4-year-old girl sleeping in the boot of a car (See Inside story, pages 12 and 13).

"You can choose to look away. That's up to you. If people say, 'oh it's their own fault', then it must be okay with them that children live in cars," he said.

Reporting team: Annemarie Quill, Carmen Hall, Juliet Rowan, Sandra Conchie.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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