Plea for third emergency house turned down

By Laurel Stowell

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Sian MacGibbon
Sian MacGibbon

Since December last year Whanganui has had two houses available for people in emergency situations - but sometimes they're both full.

They are managed by the new Wanganui Housing Trust created after Whanganui's previous emergency housing initiative, Project Jericho, closed down four years ago. One of the houses is a possible source of temporary accommodation for men released from Whanganui Prison.

"When we are full and get inquiries it's very hard to say no. That's quite sad, because it's like - where do you go?" Sian MacGibbon said.

She's the chairwoman of the Wanganui Housing Trust. It has two houses available in the central city for short-term stays.

If they are full people in need sometimes have to stay at 42B College House, a backpackers. There aren't any other low cost and short-term accommodation places in the city that Mrs MacGibbon can recommend.

She had many meetings with Housing New Zealand Whanganui-Manawatu-Horowhenua manager Keith Hilson to see whether the state could help.

"Perhaps I was expecting far too much. I asked for three houses, free or for a nominal rent, to look after community need. Then we could perhaps look at paying a bit more for the properties."

Mr Hilson said no, the trust would have to buy the houses, which galled her. "Where's the social conscience from Housing New Zealand?"

The Wanganui Housing Trust doesn't want to own property. Instead it now has two houses at "decent" rentals, from public-spirited family trusts.

The one in Bell St is for men or men with children. The one in Tay St is for women or women with children. Both are big enough for a family of four.

People staying there have their own lockable bedrooms, and share the rest of the living space. The houses are furnished by donations, and Mrs MacGibbon said they were not luxurious. Both are close to the central city and handy for people who need to report to Work and Income or to the Community Probation Service.

People need emergency housing for all kinds of reasons. They could be financial, or to do with family violence or release from prison. Those in the trust's houses get there through helping agencies, with the trust only there to provide shelter. Their stay is limited to a week, and costs them $25 a night or $150 for the week.

People are expected to obey the rules, which include no smoking indoors. Occupancy is about 70 per cent.

Mrs MacGibbon doubts it will get much of the $41.1 million over four years just announced by Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett, for emergency housing. Her fellow trust members are John Paine, Barbara Young, Steve Treloar, Jo Hodder, Glenn Anderson and Jan Bullen.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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