The Labour Party will more than double the amount of emergency housing places if in Government, leader Andrew Little has announced today.

In the first of three housing announcements to mark Labour's 100th anniversary, Labour has committed to funding 1400 extra accommodation places for the homeless.

Speaking at Monte Cecilia Housing Trust in Mangere, Mr Little said that would be enough to put a roof over the heads of 5100 homeless people a year.

The policy would require an additional $60 million in funding over four years, he said.

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It would raise the total emergency housing places to 2200 beds at any one time - up from current levels of 800 beds.

"Too many of our families will spend this winter living in cars, couch surfing or cramped into the lounges and garages of relatives," Mr Little said in statement.

"It is a disgrace."

The Labour leader said that the new policy, combined with Labour's state-run building programme, would "help end homelessness in New Zealand".

He said that the homeless were the "sharp end of the Government's housing crisis". High rents had pushed people out of their homes and onto the street.

"Labour will help them get a roof over their heads and back onto their feet."
He cited a recent University of Otago paper which showed that 42,000 were homeless in
New Zealand, of whom 4200 were "sleeping rough".

In this year's Budget, the Government committed to funding 3000 emergency housing places a year.

That represents around 800 beds, given that the average stay is around three months.

Around 360 of these beds are in Auckland, where the housing shortage has pushed up property prices and rent.

It is the first time that the Government has stepped in to fund emergency housing - a role which is usually left to charities.

Before the Government intervention, there were around 100 emergency housing places registered with the Ministry of Social Development.

Community Housing Aotearoa director Scott Figenshow welcomed Labour's policy.

"It's adding a further [1400] places, a whole lot more places, and it's calling for a Housing First approach. We absolutely support a Housing First approach," he said.

"The piece that is missing is that this makes it even clearer that we need to have a full capital fund available so we can get permanent units delivered to people in need."

The National Government funds new social housing only through ongoing income-related rental subsidies, with an ability for community agencies to take up to 20 per cent of the subsidy for the 25-year life of a new home as upfront capital funding in high-demand areas such as Auckland.

"The problem is that 20 per cent isn't nearly enough to make it work," Mr Figenshow said.

"People are trying to get projects over the line but it's not enough, it's not working."

Shaun Farrell with his tailored coat from the Order of Malta in Sydney.
Shaun Farrell with his tailored coat from the Order of Malta in Sydney.

'Happy staying in tent'

Homeless Aucklander Shaun Farrell, 40, said more emergency housing would be good but he would not necessarily use it.

"I'm actually happy staying in my tent," he said.

He said he had spent 30 years living mainly on the streets since leaving home as a teenager. Today he became about the 15th person to get one of 100 specially tailored coats made for homeless Kiwis by the Catholic Order of Malta in Sydney, which heard about New Zealand's homelessness problem during a recent visit to Auckland.

Mr Farrell recently stayed for three months at the James Liston Hostel, a 40-bed emergency housing facility in Freemans Bay near central Auckland, but moved back to his tent a few weeks ago.

He said he could usually get into the hostel when he needed to.

Another man who was having lunch at the hostel today, aged 69, said more emergency housing would be good for those who needed it.

"But I think you would also have to be careful where you locate it because there's some areas that I just wouldn't consider living in, mainly in South Auckland," he said.

Hostel manager Charlotte Ama said the 40-year-old hostel's roof "just leaks everywhere" and the group of churches that run the facility were struggling to raise $500,000 to repair it. They have applied for some of the $41 million earmarked for emergency housing in this year's Budget to renovate the building.

"We are looking at creating another 15 beds by restructuring the current building," she said.

She welcomed Labour's policy of "housing first" - first providing a house and then wrapping services around people - but she said it wouldn't suit everyone.

"Good on Labour if that's their policy. I don't think it will eliminate everything but it will ease a lot of the housing crisis," she said.

"I've got no qualms with housing first, some people work better that way, but then you have other people who say, 'I have to address what's going on before I go indoors."

Step in right direction

Monte Cecilia Trust chief executive Bernie Smith said Labour's policy was "a bit like the National policy - it's a step in the right direction".

"My concern is that there has been no discussion around full wraparound services," he said.

"We're talking about families that have got addictions, that have mental health issues, that have lived in poverty. Bricks and mortar don't resolve their issues."

His trust got $180,000 out of the first $1.9 million allocated from this year's Budget for emergency housing. Mr Smith said that would just allow the trust to keep going.

"We have been losing money running this facility, so it means we can survive," he said.

The Salvation Army received the bulk of the $1.9 million, including $600,000 for its 100-bed Epsom Lodge in Auckland, $500,000 for its 90-bed Addington Supportive Accommodation in Christchurch and smaller amounts for facilities in Hamilton, Porirua, Lower Hutt and Wellington.

Its director of supportive accommodation and addictions, Lt Col Lynette Hutson, said the money would be used to hire more staff to help residents with addictions, mental health issues and financial problems.

She welcomed a line in Labour's policy stating: "The Government must support the work of emergency housing providers by making sure essential wraparound services such as addiction, mental health and budgeting are made available."