New data on New Zealand's burgeoning transient population has urged social services to call for a "game changer".

Around 5.6 per cent of the population, or 212,000 Kiwis, are transient, of which a population the size of Tauranga are vulnerable - an Auckland University of Technology study has revealed.

Transient was defined as moving at least three times in three years. The 150,000 Kiwis classified as "vulnerable transient" moved three or more times to or within a highly deprived area.

Close to 4000 people had moved seven or more times in the study period of August 2013 to July 2016. Māori were twice as likely to be vulnerable transient and women were also over-represented.

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AUT economics professor Gail Pacheco was commissioned by government agency Superu to co-author the study. They used Integrated Data Infrastructure that pulls and links up data sets from across the country.

Professor in Economics​ at AUT Gail Pacheco authored a report on the transient population within New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
Professor in Economics​ at AUT Gail Pacheco authored a report on the transient population within New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

Data was used from 3.8 million New Zealanders. People were discarded if they were travellers, not citizens or they were born or died in the study period.

Pacheco said the study aimed to understand the scale of the transience phenomenon.

"This data gave us evidence to quantify, based on the whole New Zealand resident population, what proportion we believe are vulnerable transient.

"We know from past research that moving often to poor socioeconomic areas, people are more likely to have poor outcomes in education and health."

Adults with at least one recent benefit spell (in the five years before the study period) were two and half times more likely to be vulnerable transient, compared to adults with no recent benefit history. Additionally 25 per cent had had a recent court case and 20 per cent had been convicted.

John Tamihere, chief executive of Te Whānau O Waipareira Trust, was not surprised by the scale of the issue - he sees evidence of transience every day.

"The real problem is we've got kids who are going to six or seven different schools before they hit intermediate.

"No matter how clever the kid is, no matter how capable they are, they ain't going nowhere, they ain't got a sustainable long-term chance.

"It's a ticking time bomb in regards to where these kids go. They have nowhere else to go but the criminal justice system, which is an expensive, crude, heavy tool to manage."

John Tamihere, chief executive of Te Whānau O Waipareira Trust, is calling for a
John Tamihere, chief executive of Te Whānau O Waipareira Trust, is calling for a "game changer" in social services. Photo / Supplied

Tamihere believed transience was the result of a deeply systemic issue. He said "squillions" was spent on ineffective bureaucracy which should be redirected to the front line. Communities should be empowered to fix their own problems and government agencies could be simplified, Tamihere said.

"A lot of communities know what needs to be done quicker than a government agency in Wellington. We need to bring agencies into the 21st century.

"We need a game changer here."

The Ministry of Education reported that transience had a negative impact on students. In 2016, around 3900 students had moved school twice or more in the last year. Māori students were most likely to be transient.

Around 40 per cent of the students at rural Kohukohu School in the Far North are transient. They have a consistent roll of 50 but every year around 20 are either new or leaving.

Principal Cecilia Gray said the main reasons for moving were housing and employment.

"They might stay with family then they need their own place, then there's not anything so they move out.

"It's hard to get the momentum in their learning. Often students have already been to a few schools. It's hard because you're getting to know them, you feel like you're about to make progress and then they move on."

Kohukohu School has around 40 per cent of their students start or leave each year. Photo / Google Maps
Kohukohu School has around 40 per cent of their students start or leave each year. Photo / Google Maps

Gray said the ones who were unsettled by the moving tended to be quiet, reserved children.

"You can see they've been moved around a lot and don't get to settle. They're not achieving as high as you would expect for their age.

"We can't change anything, we just teach to the needs that arrive."

An Auckland man, who wants to be known only as Thomas, has moved over nine times in the last three years. He's lost count.

Aged 55 and living off a sickness benefit for mental health reasons, Thomas would love to live by himself. But he can't afford to. He's moved out of most places due to personal disagreements with the landlord or other tenants, including other renters stealing from him, loud parties, and domestic violence.

"Anybody on the benefit ends up with about $80 after bills. You just can't do it. You're always at Winz begging for this, begging for that.

"Sometimes I think bugger it, just go live under the bridge. But I need a roof over my head."

Auckland Action Against Poverty coordinator Ricardo Menéndez believes the Government needs to reduce transience by building more state houses. Photo / Supplied
Auckland Action Against Poverty coordinator Ricardo Menéndez believes the Government needs to reduce transience by building more state houses. Photo / Supplied

Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator Ricardo Menéndez said the numbers showed the effect of the housing crisis. He said the private market was unable to provide secure tenancies so it was the Government's responsibility to mass-build state homes.

"The Government's lack of funding for state housing programmes has caused this situation where we've got over 100,000 people in precarious housing situations."

AAAP advocate Kathleen Paraha said it was no surprise Māori were disproportionately represented.

"My people have continuously been the target of policies that disproportionately affect them and leave them in precarious housing situations, such as the sanctions against solo mums on the benefit."