More women, kids, homeless in Christchurch

By Shelley Robinson

Before the earthquakes the YWCA did not have a waiting list - they were never full. Photo / Thinkstock
Before the earthquakes the YWCA did not have a waiting list - they were never full. Photo / Thinkstock

Emergency housing and shelters are struggling to cope with the growing number of homeless women and children in Christchurch city.

The Christchurch City Mission and YWCA say they are inundated with women and children desperately seeking emergency housing - at levels never seen before.

Both say they have to turn away people, with the YWCA having a regular waiting list of on average 50 women plus their children.

Before the earthquakes the YWCA did not have a waiting list - they were never full.

"There was no waiting list before the earthquakes. We would vary between maybe 30 per cent and 80 per cent occupancy then," said YWCA community services manager Leigh Steele.

And there is nowhere left for those turned away to go after emergency housing.

"It's the end of the line - they couch surf, they stay in their cars with their children, or stay at a friend's house in very unsafe and stressful situations," said Ms Steele.

Christchurch City Missioner Michael Gorman said he was extremely worried about safety.

"I wish I knew where they did go. If they can't stay with their family, quite frankly I don't know. God help them," he said.

Mr Gorman said increasing rental prices meant women could not afford private rentals.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment report weekly market rents have risen across the city by an average of $65 in the last year.

Mr Gorman said the only option for women was emergency housing or social housing - but this was stretched across the city.

He called for city council and Government to "hurry up" their social housing programmes.

"They [women] cannot afford private rentals anymore - they are completely out of reach. There is not enough happening.

"They should be fixing the housing stock as quickly as possible. There just isn't enough accommodation for people like ours on very low income," he said.

The YWCA agreed.

"Mothers with young children just can't afford the rentals out there and landlords have more choice now," said Ms Steele.

"We need more work on social housing and affordable housing - it's happening but it's just not happening fast enough," she said.

City councillor Yani Johanson, chairman of the committee which oversees city council's social housing, said their programme had fallen behind due to Earthquake Commission claims and difficulties in finding qualified people to do damage assessments.

Council staff are now investigating whether the city council could get a "global settlement" from EQC to hurry up the rebuild and repair programme.

"There also needs to be a joint strategic response by government, council and social agencies to deal with this situation," he said.

The Christchurch City Mission has only seven beds on offer for emergency one night accommodation for women and do not take children.

YWCA has units and rooms available and currently have 14 women and 19 children in their facilities.

Those who do have emergency housing with the YWCA or Aviva Family Violence Service, formerly Christchurch Women's Refuge, are now staying longer than typically allowed.

Said Aviva marketing and funding manager Julie McCloy: "Pre-earthquakes, the average stay was seven days now it's more like 20 days. A couple of clients have almost stayed four months."

The YWCA said the maximum time for women to stay was usually three months but they were staying a "lot longer" than that, said Ms Steele.

The city council has a total 2649 social housing units, but 113 have to be closed as residential red zone.

As at August 13, 2183 or 82 per cent of their units are open.

- CHRISTCHURCH STAR

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