How do you feel when you read or hear about individuals and families (especially those with young children) sleeping in cars or in garages or simply living (and sometimes dying) on the streets in this cold weather?

Do you figuratively shrug your shoulders and reassure yourself that adults in such a plight must be feckless or inadequate, and they therefore deserve no better?

Do you say to yourself that anyone who cannot organise their lives to provide a roof over their heads cannot expect others (and particularly the taxpayer) to bail them out?

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And do you stick to that view, even while reluctantly agreeing that it is a little rough to make children pay the price for their parents' assumed deficiencies?

If your answer to any of these questions is "yes", then you are in good company - because that is what the Government says too.

But if you were Prime Minister and could, with the stroke of a pen, authorise the expenditure that would get these families and children off the streets, and into safe, warm and healthy accommodation, would you do so?

Or would you stick to what might loosely be called your principles and let the dice lie where they fall, come what may?

Is there no room in politics for a simple human response to the plight of another - for a simple act of compassion and kindness? What is it that makes us think that governments cannot, and should not, be expected to behave as any ordinary decent human being would do? Why should a government that can help not do so immediately?

And what conclusion would you reach if, after a moment's thought, you realised that these benighted homeless families were not actually the authors of their own misfortunes but were in fact victims of forces over which they have no control - that they are paying the price for the unceasing quest for ever higher profits by banks, speculators, landlords, developers, all of whom have played a significant part in ratcheting up purchase prices and rents to levels that cannot be afforded? People without resources cannot overcome these forces on their own.

Would you wish to hold the government - any government - to account, deciding as it does the disposition of the billions we provide to them as taxpayers, for their failure to ensure that some small part of our ample resources is spent on ensuring that children have somewhere warm and safe to sleep at night?

Have you imagined what it would be like to have nowhere to lay your head, on the coldest nights of the year?

What is to stop a prime minister from saying to himself, if not to others, that it is an affront to live in a wealthy country that pretends it cannot afford to provide a simple roof over the heads of our most vulnerable?


Why do our leaders not listen to their consciences and instruct ministers and civil servants that an immediate solution must be found today, and that a long-term solution must planned for and financed tomorrow?

And why do we not stop to question a system that leaves the vulnerable defenceless against the depredations of the greedy?

Why do we not say that this is not the New Zealand we wish to live in or thought that we lived in? Why do we not make sure that our leaders understand that we elect them to do our bidding, and that our bidding is that a safe and warm place to live is the minimum that every child has a right to expect and that it must be made available?

Or do you prefer to find comfort in the thoughts that the homeless do not deserve to be helped, that it would cost too much, that they should learn to help themselves, that they would waste any opportunity provided to them, that the government should give priority to protecting its surplus, and that you would in any case prefer to enjoy some tax cuts?

Do you agree that resolving the homelessness crisis is not difficult in practical terms but is a matter of political will?

Do you have that will - and will you try to ensure that it prevails?

Bryan Gould is a former British MP and Waikato University vice-chancellor.