Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Homeless shelter forced to close doors

Lydia Mataiti (21) and newborn daughter Vinell Mavia Faoagali rely on homeless shelters. Photo / Richard Robinson
Lydia Mataiti (21) and newborn daughter Vinell Mavia Faoagali rely on homeless shelters. Photo / Richard Robinson

Homeless families like first-time mum Lydia Mataiti and her newborn baby will find it harder to find shelter after the closure of one of Auckland's handful of emergency houses.

Island Child Trust, set up eight years ago by solo mother Danielle Bergin after she herself was homeless, has provided temporary housing for about 40 families a year in a house in Glen Innes with three relocateable chalets.

Last week Ms Mataiti, 21, brought her baby daughter Vinell Mavia Faoagali there straight from the maternity ward because she had nowhere else to live.

"I was staying with my aunty," she said. "But the house was too full with my aunty and eight children and me and my brother."

A few weeks before the baby was due, she found a private rental for herself and her brother, 17. But Work and Income refused to lend her the bond because the rent was more than she could afford, so they referred her to Island Child.

She and her baby are now in a one-room chalet, with her brother in a tiny upstairs loft. Ms Bergin has advocated for her with Housing NZ and the agency has found her a state house available from March 7.

But Ms Bergin has put the property up for auction on March 19 after a long and fruitless struggle for adequate funding. She and her two daughters, who have been living on the premises, are moving to a 5 ha farmlet near Tuakau where she will provide farm-stays for some of the families she has worked with.

"I hung in here for two years hoping I'd get funded to put in a small core of staff who could manage the homeless issues for East Auckland - families I found sleeping in cars on the streets or in leaky garages with children with bronchiolitis," she said.

She obtained grants from the ASB Community Trust, lotteries and gambling trusts, but repeated applications to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and the Social Housing Unit were rebuffed.

Island Child filled an emergency housing gap between De Paul House on the North Shore and Monte Cecilia in South Auckland. De Paul House and Monte Cecilia both said MSD grants covered only about 20 per cent of their costs and they raised the rest from the Catholic Church, philanthropic trusts and donations.

Salvation Army social policy director Major Campbell Roberts said his church had "pulled out significantly" from emergency housing after Housing NZ stopped providing cheap state houses for emergencies more than 20 years ago.

"In the past we paid $5 a year for a state house and the Government looked after the maintenance of it. Slowly that was changed until people had to pay market rent," he said.

"Emergency housing has just been allowed to tail off and we have been relying on organisations like Monte and these other organisations to keep it running. And I suppose the other thing is that people have been put into hostels and boarding houses and they have been less than desirable."

- NZ Herald

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