Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.
Part of the Christmas message is the one about there being no place in the inn. And the baby Jesus having to be born in the stables cradled in a manger.
When the Salvation Army raised the coming plight of the homeless in Kāpiti over the Christmas holiday period it looked like a disaster was unfolding. Due to the lack of housing stock nationally the Ministry of Social Development has been using motels to accommodate those needing emergency housing.
Around the holiday period it's well-known that motels have pre-committed bookings. To make matters worse the Covid-19 fallout includes closed borders and thousands, who would normally holiday abroad, forced to do that in New Zealand. Additional pressure on motels.
There was a looming danger that market forces would mean the homeless would be replaced with better paying 'better' clients. That there would be no proverbial place in the inn during Christmas.
What really alarmed me was when the Salvation Army staff, at the coal face of this problem, and looking at options, suggested the temporary use of public grounds to put up tents.
Council staff, working with a number of NGOs, had also been looking for solutions. Staff, and housing and social wellbeing portfolio holder councillor Rob McCann were able to directly contact MSD central region commissioner Katie Brosnahan. Congratulations to McCann and council staff.
The commissioner, who has a reputation as a trouble shooter, turned up to a meeting at council, with three of her key staff, to brief local NGOs, and council staff.
MSD had responded and negotiated with the relevant motel owners to batten down any chance of the homeless losing their emergency housing over the Christmas period.
The commissioner agreed to look at the funding application to DIA by NGOs, assisted by council, to secure funds for navigators to help those applying to MSD for help.
These navigators will help them work through the process which can be complex especially for those with multiple problems and little capacity. MSD will also look at directly contributing to this service.
MSD agreed to look at issues of transitional housing for young people, an issue raised by Kāpiti Youth Service.
On more long-term solutions the commissioner was told that housing agencies like Kainga Ora tended to see the Kāpiti Coast as a low priority area for housing solutions compared with other parts of the country.
The trouble is these agencies measure demand using the housing registry held by MSD offices where people in need register their need. Kāpiti, however, has a hidden demand where people live in overcrowded conditions, in garages, or young people sleep on couches at friends' homes, others in cars parking at different places at different nights ... etc. We need a way of identifying them and getting them to register formally through the local MSD offices.
It was refreshing to also note the proactive direction the commissioner took to suggest a customised Kāpiti approach. At her central region level she works through a holistic cross-agency approach to housing problems.
She advocated for a similar cross-agency set up to look at solutions for Kāpiti. This will be a significant step forward as council, with its established links to local NGOs, its regulatory and planning responsibilities and links to the development community and Māori landowners, will be better placed to facilitate housing solutions if government agencies can come to the party.
McCann and I left the meeting knowing the immediate Christmas emergency housing crisis that was looming looks to have been averted and we were starting to see some positive steps towards potential medium term solutions.
I take the opportunity to thank the NGOs who see the underbelly of deprivation in our communities and work so tirelessly to provide solutions. I also thank the commissioner and her dedicated staff, and council's welfare team.
The Christmas message that there is room at the inn, at least for now, is a welcome one.