Sit-in staged to highlight plight of city's homeless

By Imran Ali

About 200 people are expected to congregate with sleeping bags and cardboard signs at Cameron Mall in Whangarei today in support of emergency housing in Whangarei.

Cash-strapped Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Trust (TTEHT) is organising the sit-in to demonstrate how it housed 206 people - 124 adults and 82 children - last year as part of its services.

The trust needs $15,000 urgently and about $40,000 before the end of the year to keep operating its temporary accommodation in Whangarei.

Chairperson Adrian Whale said the trust wanted to visibly remind people that if their service disappeared tomorrow, families would have to find somewhere else such as a car, garage, a couch or the streets, to go to.

"We are the landlord of last resort in Whangarei," he said.

His fear was that few people would care or take notice if we did close because homelessness in the country was mostly hidden, and the voices of the homeless were unheard.

Mr Whale said it was too easy to ignore the plight of the poor and vulnerable and to dismiss them as drug addicts or alcoholics.

But, he said, there was much more to homeless people than being homeless.

As much as the trust wanted to help all those struggling to find a home, he said their resources simply could not cope up with the numbers and the complexity of needs.

"We hope our actions tomorrow [today] send a strong signal to the public and government that as a community, we cannot continue to ignore those that are poor and at risk of becoming homeless any longer," Mr Whale said.

"These people should not be treated as a burden to society but with mercy and love in their time of need."

Organisers have asked supporters to bring their sleeping bags and signs and the time to congregate at the mall is between 10 and 11am.

The trust has reminded the public that the sit-in was meant to be a silent vigil and not a political protest.

Laurie Hall Park may be used as a venue after 11am or if the crowd gets too large.

TTEHT was established in 2006 and offers emergency, temporary accommodation for about 33 people at one time, in houses or motel rooms around Whangarei.

In 2012, the housing trust accommodated a total of 206 people, 82 of them children.

Clients include women and children, people who have lost their jobs, and single men released from prison.

A typical stay in emergency housing is between six to eight weeks, during which time TTEHT assists clients with budgeting advice and making the transition to other accommodation.

- Northern Advocate

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