Dunedin's housing crisis: Sex for a place to sleep

By Margot Taylor

Eleven of the 300 at-risk youth who responded to the survey said they had engaged in prostitution for the "primary purpose of accommodation''. Photo / iStock
Eleven of the 300 at-risk youth who responded to the survey said they had engaged in prostitution for the "primary purpose of accommodation''. Photo / iStock

Dunedin's "dire'' housing situation is forcing some at-risk youth to engage in prostitution to get a place to sleep, or to sleep rough in cars, a Methodist Mission survey has revealed.

Eleven of the 300 at-risk youth (aged between 16 and 20) who responded to the survey said they had engaged in prostitution for the "primary purpose of accommodation''.

South Dunedin Social Sector Trial manager Mary-Ann McKibben said in many cases prostitution involved the exchange of sexual favours for accommodation.

"It is often opportunistic older men who will take advantage of vulnerable young people.''

A further 15 respondents said they were living in the city's boarding houses.

Dunedin Methodist Mission business development leader Jimmy McLauchlan said the figures, particularly those indicating the extent of youth prostitution in the city, were "disturbing'' but not surprising.

"We have been working with youth in the city over a number of years and we have been noticing this issue time and time again. A significant chunk of [young] people have been consistently finding it hard to find somewhere safe to live.''

The Mission had not yet conducted a similar survey this year, but he expected homelessness figures would be worse.

"We would be amazed if it has improved. If anything I would say the problem is steadily worsening,'' Mr McLauchlan said.

The survey figures were proof of the need for a youth housing facility in Dunedin, he said: "We really needed a transitional-type housing facility yesterday.''

The Mission was in talks with Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development about establishing a 6-18 bed unit for homeless youth, he said.

Responses to the July 2015 survey were collated from six Dunedin youth service providers.

All of the social agencies said they had experienced significant issues accommodating their youth clients on at least three occasions last year.

Mirror Services director Deb Fraser said a substantial number of its youth clients faced the prospect of homelessness.

"The young people who access our service already have many vulnerabilities due to their illnesses, histories (often traumatic) and other difficult social dynamics.''

"In our experience a substantial number of our young people often face homelessness or are in substandard or socially compromised living situations because of these vulnerabilities which then has escalating impacts for all manner of harm.''

Mr McLauchlan said boarding houses often put teenagers, particularly young women, at more risk.

"In many cases we are talking about youth living with majorly dysfunctional people and that can be an incredibly unhealthy environment for them to be in.

"They are reporting feeling unsafe, being assaulted, a lot of them are self-harming.''

Much of the accommodation on offer to at-risk youth was better suited to older men, he said.

"If you are a young woman there are very few temporary options.''

Another service provider said Child, Youth and Family could not always provide care placements for 15-year-olds.

"We are definitely being told there are no care placements.''

- Otago Daily Times

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