Carmen is a social issues and rural reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

More seek help for housing

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Diane Bruin.
Diane Bruin.

Bay social service agencies say they are struggling to cope with the spike of inquiries from families for emergency housing. And Tauranga Citizens Advice is referring people straight to camp sites as it does not want to offer "false hope".

Tauranga Community Housing Trust manager Chris Johnstone said three to five women with children sought help every week that the trust could not provide.

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The problem was amplified by escalating rents and in some cases a relationship breakdown, poor tenancy history and rental houses being sold.

"We have got couch surfing, families in cars or garages, people on sections in caravans and tents and living with family members in overcrowded situations."

The trust had about 100 homes in Tauranga and the Eastern Bay of Plenty that were full with no turnover, she said.

"There is very little we can do, we have no vacancies and just about no turnover ... we don't have the facilities basically."

It was disheartening for staff and everybody in the sector, she said.

"You can't just pop people in housing, some people just need a house but others need a bit more resourcing or support to make it sustainable."

Turning Point Trust chief executive Arlene Foster said it was a growing crisis exacerbated by property prices and government policy, particularly around social housing.

"People are becoming poorer by low wages and harsher welfare systems. Our communities are not treating these people well and they are often blamed for the situation they find themselves in."

About three people a week contacted the organisation with housing issues that were not one of its core services, she said.

"We deal with a lot of people who are in less than ideal living situations - particularly living in hostel type accommodation. These are almost to the point of being doss houses."

Citizens Advice Bureau Tauranga manager Kim Saunders said the organisations referred people seeking emergency accommodation to camping grounds as "we don't want to provide false hope".

"There is a huge shortage of emergency housing and nothing for women. It's no use us referring people knowing what the answer is as they are in the same boat ... there is no quick fix, you have to find a rental and that is really hard."

Traditionally it fielded more calls during the winter for emergency housing - in June to August last year it fielded 47 calls over that time frame compared to 9 in 2012.

This year the service had taken 58 calls on par with 2015 "but obviously we are just starting winter", she said.

In November its national office conducted an in-depth analysis about inquiries about emergency accommodation and called on the Government to support people into temporary accommodation where there was no emergency housing available.

Chief executive Kerry Dalton said it was the bureau's fastest growing level of inquiry - for the last five years - and it received more than 3000 calls nationally in one year to end of June 2015. Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said the number of people approaching the service who lived in overcrowded situations had doubled in a year.

The service knew of 10 people living in a three bedroom home and a family of four paying $390 a week to live with a friend - in suburbs including "Tauriko, Merivale and Welcome Bay but it is more widespread than that".

Salvation Army Tauranga community ministries manager Davina Plummer said from June 1, 2015 to June 1, 2016 it had seen 21 people in person about housing issues and fielded 120 phone calls.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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