Weekly column by Kāpiti Mayor K. Gurunathan
There is a small stretch of bush between the Paraparaumu Library building and the Kāpiti Community Centre.
Although it borders a well-trodden footpath along a busy connecting road, the hedge-like bush sheltered a hidden secret - two makeshift tents within its green cover.
When it was discovered about two months ago, two people had been living there. It was not known how long they had been there before council staff were alerted. This is just one instance when the reality of the homeless amongst us "intrudes" into the mainstream consciousness.
This out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation has been abetted by the way officialdom tends to measure homelessness.
The Ministry of Social Development has a register for those looking for accommodation and seekers have to negotiate through their protocols to land a place on their skinny waiting list. These official registers are used to benchmark demand for social housing. Government agencies use these to prioritise the potential supply of social housing investment.
What the methodology fails to reveal is the multi-layered jungle of reasons those in genuine need of accommodation don't succeed in getting themselves on the slim registry. Those unable to negotiate the complexity of the bureaucratic system, those who feel ashamed to seek help, and those who manage to 'cope' with their situation in overcrowded housing. To this add young people couch-surfing, people living in cars parked in random places to avoid being moved on. In 2015, when Ōtaki was hit by serious flooding, council staff helping evacuate affected residents found two families living in garages.
This hidden reality has been known to the social services in the coalface such as the Salvation Army or the Wellington City Mission's OrangeSky Project, and others.
Three years ago, at a hui of housing providers, it was noted that while MSD's housing register had a waiting list of just over 100, the real figure was closer to 300. But anecdotal evidence is not enough to secure Crown agency investment. We have to put a statistical face to this hidden reality of homelessness beyond the tip-of-the-iceberg methodology used by MSD. Hard data that can be used to measure the real demand.
Four years ago, a needs assessment was a key action identified by the Housing Task Force. Council, with a renewed focus on housing, is now undertaking our own two-pronged housing and social needs assessment. Good work is being done by council staff and housing portfolio holder Cr Rob McCann to secure tangible data. We will get a better handle on the depth of our homeless problem to help work with government agencies to design and build practical solutions.
This brings me to a simple fact the neoliberals have failed to grasp. Overcrowded housing and high deprivation, the plight of the poor, are not exclusively the concern of the poor. What the Covid pandemic is continuing to reveal is that the rich cannot afford to have poor people living in deprivation and unhealthy crowded conditions. The very conditions where the virus finds fertile ground to spread and mutate.
The Delta variant spawned amidst the poor of India. Last week, we were alerted about the potentially more-lethal variant Omicron, first identified in South Africa. Former British prime minister Gordon Brown was quick to highlight the year-long warning he had been sounding to the rich Western bloc that they had been dominating the storage and supply of vaccines for themselves when they should have been sharing it with poorer nations.
The Guardian's economics correspondent, Larry Elliot, was on the mark when he said it's in the self-interest of the rich West to ensure the vaccination of the poor. Stockmarkets plunged losing billions when the threat of Omicron was signalled.
Given sealing your international borders is not foolproof, it's better to deny the virus easy breeding grounds to mutate in the poorer countries and spread into the global neighbourhoods of the rich. In the reimagining of global capitalism the neoliberals, who deny socialism has any virtues, should at the very least meditate on the concept of benign selfishness.