The People's Project has been open less than two months, but it has already helped get four people off Hamilton's streets and is working with about 30 others.

The People's Project sees several agencies working together in a bid to reduce the city's homeless population to zero by 2016. Its establishment is a community-wide response to concern from citizens about people living on the streets and is located in an office in Garden Place where the agencies involved can work together.

Those involved in The People's Project include The Wise Group - a family of charitable organisations that span many sectors including mental health and addiction, employment, education and training - along with the Waikato DHB, Midlands Primary Health, Ministry of Social Development, Police, Hamilton City Council and Corrections. Other agencies may join in the future.

Each person The People's Project assists receives wrap-around support from the agencies involved and their networks.

Advertisement

Wise group communications manager Tamsin Webb said it is too soon to know exactly how many people are homeless or sleeping rough in Hamilton.

"We will have a better understanding once we have worked closely with key agencies who are also working with some of the people."

Project leader Julie Nelson of The Wise Group said it is not any one organisation's responsibility to eliminate homelessness by 2016, but that it needs to be a group effort.

"Everyone should and needs to have safe, affordable, and appropriate housing. Some people may need a bit more support to ensure they can maintain their housing, if that is what people need, that is what we should be responding to.

"You can't just plonk people in a home and expect they have all the skills to be able to manage that. What is it then that people need?"

Ms Nelson said there has been concern about people living on the streets for some time, but the timing is now right to bring the agencies together for a collaborative approach to address the issue.

"There is a lot of debate about what is homelessness. We all need shelter. We all need good and appropriate housing. When you have that, everything flows from there.

"It is hard to work if you do not have a home, it is hard to have good health and well being if you haven't got a home. The purpose is about connecting people, organisations, and communities to readjust society for all."

The idea for The People's Project stemmed from collaboration over a Hamilton East campground that closed down in 2010.

Ms Nelson said several agencies went to the campground to talk to people living there and assist them on where to go and what to do when they were no longer able to stay at the camp.

"Every person said they wanted a home and a lot said they wanted a job," Ms Nelson said.

Discussions had already begun over the Hamilton City Safety Plan, which Ms Nelson was part of, and the idea for a joint approach to homelessness began.

"There was a concerted effort to put in place support options [for those living in the campground]. It got us thinking if you can do that in a really rapid amount of time, why can't we look to work in a much more connected way... we may be able to get some really good traction for the people we know living [on the streets].

"We said let's do it, but let's not have a place that is not somewhere out the back, let's be right in Garden Place so we can get a sense of what is happening, and for people to see it is a multi-agency approach and we are clear about addressing homelessness in the city."

She said those involved in the Hamilton City Safety Plan did not want to tackle it from an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude, but rather "from the point of view how can we help? How can we actually work in a different way to support people."

"There have been some nights I have gone home after hearing stories, and thought to myself, how on earth as a society could we have let this happen?"

Ms Nelson spoke to a person who stopped by The People's Project office to see what it was about. They had lived on the streets on and off for 15 years.

"As with every person there is a story. I said 'what changed for you?' They said there was a situation and someone stopped and assisted them and their life changed because someone stopped and actually cared. That was the single thing that changed for that person."

The People's Project's costs are met by the agencies involved.