A Tauranga school principal wants Tauranga to lead the rest of the country in responding to the homeless crisis.

"We really need to be taking a lead and showing that social awareness," Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti told Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

Seven to eight per cent of the school's 153 children were currently homeless, highlighting why Tauranga desperately needed more emergency housing.

"I would like to see people showing that compassion and leading the way with solutions."


Although the short-term need was for more emergency housing, the city also had to look beyond that and find long-term solutions, she said.

Ms Tinetti said the council was the perfect conduit to ensure that both short and long-term housing goals were achieved by working with agencies that looked after the homeless.

"Some of the NGOs (non-government organisations) have amazing ideas."

Tauranga independent midwives Kelly Pidgeon and Shirley Marriott have come up with an idea with the potential to make a big dent in the problem.

It revolved around putting modular housing units like converted shipping containers around a central hub of a kitchen and ablutions block. It would include a one-stop shop for health and social services and a school bus so the children were able to continue going to the same school.

Mrs Pidgeon saw it more as a stepping stone to getting into a house, with the complex functioning in a similar way to a camping ground.

"It would have to be really safe."

She said it was quite common for independent midwives to have one or two clients who were struggling with housing.

The village could happen quite quickly if the community will was there for this cost-effective and functional solution. The council had a role to make it safe without surrounding the project with red tape and bureaucracy.

Mrs Marriott's most recent encounter with the housing crisis was when one of her heavily pregnant mothers with five children under 13 was tossed out on to the street because the motel unit she was in had been pre-booked for the Aims Games.

Read more: Tauranga risks becoming mini-Auckland

After failing to get any help from 26 agencies, she took them to their rural family block where a portable cabin already held three adults and two children. ''I could not leave them there.''

It took a member of the public to open their home to the family for the 10 days they were out of the motel. Now a local church was pouring dinners into their unit every night and transporting the kids to school, she said.

Mrs Marriott saw a great potential for portable cabins on Maori-owned family land as a way to ease the housing shortage. They were dropped off and hooked up to water and power for rent of $180 a week.

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Service executive director Tommy Wilson called for a multi-sector approach to the development of a homeless hub.

There were already places for streeties [homeless men] with layers of addictions and battered wives, but no place for a homeless mother with six kids, he said.

It needed something permanent and fit-for-purpose. "I want that to be a planning priority alongside the other things we need. Let's start catering for the needs of the poor as well as the prosperous."

He said there were 150 homeless, mostly children, within walking distance of the Te Tuinga Whanau's base in Greerton, with the base currently helping 17 people. There were another 450 homeless in the rest of the city, sleeping in cars, tents, caravans and sheds.

"Most of our civic leaders don't have much of an idea about the problem. They are learning, but they must understand the need to plan for it."

Part of their work was to fix up the reasons why people were homeless in the first place, to give them to tools to become good tenants, he said.

"We can't keep on shoving them into motels with food parcels. It's just shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic," Mr Wilson said.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby, who is not seeking re-election, said the council was part of the team effort that set up the men's night shelter and it was now in the early days of planning for a women's shelter which could include taking in homeless women with families.

Mr Crosby said there was a risk that if the city provided too much temporary accommodation, it became the norm. ''A permanent solution is the best place to put our energies. We need a permanent solution.''

There needed to be more residential rental accommodation and more efficient social housing. The homeless problem had really grown in the last 12 to 15 months and was now more pressing than ever, he said.

Mr Crosby believed the new council would turn its mind to finding ways of dealing with the issue. It could be a partner in a consortium, but not the agency that delivered the houses. It could help in providing land.

Street view: What would you like to see the new council do about Tauranga's homeless problem?

"Stop building the new council offices and put that money into helping with the homeless problem. We can wait for a civic centre but the homeless can't wait for a home."
- Trisha Coneybear, 66, Otumoetai

"It's hard to know what council could do. It's not a very good time for them to buy up property in Tauranga because the prices are so high, but council could see if they could purchase land or houses to help the homeless. There's no easy fix though."
- Elizabeth McCulloch, 84, Avenues

"Why not turn empty hotels or hostels or office buildings into temporary boarding houses. It would help out. Maraes have already done it around New Zealand."
- Shar McLaren, 34, Gate Pa

"It's more of a central government issue. Maybe council could get more temporary housing to help get people on their feet. But central government needs to look into it because it just seems to be getting worse."
- James Rock, 70, Welcome Bay

What Tauranga's mayoral candidates would do about the homeless problem

Graeme Purches:

''Exactly what has been done, and is being done right now. Working with various agencies and organisations to identify and help facilitate solutions. I fully understand that some of this type of work often has to occur behind the scenes because it involved other parties, details of which cannot be disclosed until agreements are reached.''

Greg Brownless: ''Several approaches are needed to address homelessness in Tauranga. The rules around secondary dwellings and temporary accommodation on residential land could be reviewed with a view to reducing the bureaucratic requirements. Expanding the amount of residential zoned land may also be a helpful option. But we need to insist that the Government meets its responsibility for the cost of social housing. This is because taxes based on income should be used to meet such costs, not rates. It would be unfair to burden ratepayers, many of whom are already on low incomes themselves, to pay for the social problem of homelessness which is the responsibility of Government.''

Larry Baldock: ''The homelessness and hunger we saw last winter is a community problem in need of a community solution. As mayor I would provide leadership and work co-operatively with all the relevant central government agencies, along with churches, charities, iwi and community groups to embrace those struggling in our city. Council can do its share to contribute to the solutions but can best work alongside others in a partnership. We must all respond with compassion to meet the needs around us. That is what makes a great city with a heart. Council must keep its focus through Smart Growth on working hard to solve the long-term problem of the housing shortage.''

Max Mason: ''I have been supporting Tommy Wilson and Te Tuinga Whanau Trust for several years and have seen the issue of homelessness grow in our city. As mayor I would support the work of the homeless steering group and the development of a homeless hub which would assist clients to navigate their way out of the complex and multi-causal nature of poverty and homelessness. Failing to address this issue means a wave of homeless people next winter. If we don't act there will be a spike of negative consequences such as increased crime, substance abuse, long term absence from school, family violence and disintegration, mental illness and multiple health issues. This is a whole of community issue and the council needs to play its part in finding solutions.''

Noel Peterson: ''I would create a homeless support programme which I would aim to have in place within a month to provide safe shelter for all homeless in need with basic facilities so that folk can live with some dignity. This would be a flexible temporary service put in place until more housing was available. It would involve a united effort with existing organisations and agencies, and community support. To leave things as they are is socially unacceptable, and will cost the city much more financially if not addressed forthwith. I keep in regular contact with many homeless people and the folk who support them. I have the solutions.''

Hori Bop: ''This is obviously a central government issue, but local bodies simply cannot sit back and let the homelessness issue grow. Our city is only as strong as our weakest citizens. As mayor, I would immediately set up a homeless centre, based on the model used in Auckland for refugees. This would be a drop-in centre, where clients would be assessed, introduced to the relevant support networks and given the opportunity to transition back into meaningful accommodation."

Doug Owens: ''People have been living on the edge in New Zealand for decades and they have been able to do so because of a reasonable cost of living, our climate and low rents.
Times have changed, the cost of housing and rent and food has risen exponentially, tipping people over the edge into their cars, under bridges and elsewhere. New Zealand now has real endemic homelessness and it is a political phenomenon stalking election year 2017. Homelessness is a symptom of social dysfunction but we can find answers within our communities. As Mayor we will move to confront, understand and address this issue politically, then promote changes to central government policy.''

Murray Guy: ''Individuals and families find themselves forced to live in substandard situations, as the gap between incomes and rental affordability continues to expand. We have, at the very least, a moral obligation to respond proactively and meaningfully to the needs of our community. Our efforts to support those in need must extend beyond rugby stadiums, museums and iconic administration buildings. The council has the ability to provide critical and immediate support with vacant family homes and camping ground ownership - yet has provided no more than lip service. As Mayor I will encourage elected members to collectively and individually lobby central government to meet their obligations to our most vulnerable.''