Northland's homeless crisis is going from bad to worse, with the revelation that more than 700 people are on the waiting list to get into state social housing alone.
The number of people on the Ministry of Social Development's social housing register in Northland rose nearly 83 per cent in just one year and the Far North district is faring the worst.
There were 716 people on the register at the end of June this year compared with 414 in the same month in 2019.
Far North recorded the biggest hike — 99 per cent— over that period. The numbers jumped from 124 to 247 while Whangārei had a 63 per cent increase, from 257 to 419.
In Kaipara, 50 people were on the register in comparison to 33 at the end of June 2019.
Statistics on the approximate number of people classified as homeless in Northland are not available but Liz Cassidy-Nelson said they number in the "hundreds", judging by the numbers on the waiting list and others.
The chief executive of 155 Community House said Aucklanders moving to Whangārei as well as expat kiwis returning home were putting further strain on temporary accommodation.
In the past, it was primarily single men and women but her volunteers were now seeing lots of families that showed the need was definitely much greater, she said.
Cassidy-Nelson discovered 18 people were living in a two-bedroom house in Morningside, Whangārei, while dropping a food parcel there during the lockdown.
"They just couldn't find a home so they moved in with their family. You're seeing lots of couch surfing and that's classified as homelessness. There are also those that are living under bridges.
"There's still lots of people coming up from Auckland and living in their cars because there aren't any jobs and there aren't any homes."
"There has been a bit of transient back and forth because actually you're stuck in no man's land here and no man's land in Auckland and what drives them is hope, but they are getting stuck.
"We have a number of individuals we come in here to our housing support services saying 'look, I need a home, I can't find any, I've signed up to the real estate agents, not getting anywhere, help me' so those are the ones that are moving from home to home, couch surfing."
She said 155 Community House has been lucky that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided motels in Whangārei where 67 individuals, including children, were being temporarily housed until March next year.
The Housing First Programme started on July 1, 2019 and is funded to house and support up to 80 people and whānau in Whangārei and the wider Northland area.
Cassidy-Nelson said more than 100 people were on 155 Community House's waiting list, while MSD, Salvation Army, and Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Charitable Trust have got their own lists.
"We've been in a crisis for a long time and that absolutely hasn't changed. It's got worst since. There are not enough homes which is why in terms of Whangārei and Tai Tokerau, we are stuck with this emergency and transitional housing scenario.
"But it isn't ideal. A person's well-being is based on having a home and we're just like little band-aids. Homes need to be built. That is the solution.
"Our immediate response needs to be sadly four walls, our mid-term response is build, build, build. Has to be. The fear is we don't want to be throwing people into motels but in fact what we are doing is we are providing a dry, warm space for now," she said.
Just like a number of social services, she said 155 Community House have made a commitment to enter into social housing because homelessness would only get worse.
Apart from that, her organisation is keen to lease a vacant house owned by the Northland District Health Board on Kamo Rd to turn into a transitional house that can accommodate eight people.
"We need about $220,000 to bring it up to building warrant spec and then immediately you've got eight people there and overtime we could put smaller transitional housing around the back."
NDHB board agreed to offer 155 Community House a lease for a "peppercorn" sum for a maximum of five years.
"The proposal presented by 155 noted that transitional housing is short-term accommodation up to three months while permanent housing is arranged, noting that currently, this tends to be longer due to a lack of accommodation available in Whangārei," NDHB acting chief financial officer Joyce Donaldson said.
155 Community House has also approached Kāinga Ora financial help to buy Motel Sierra on Western Hills Dr in Whangārei which is for sale, and turn it into transitional housing.
But Kāinga Ora said it would not buy the motel and would instead work with HUD to tackle homelessness through a range of public housing across Northland, including sizeable developments at Puriri Park Rd in Whangārei and Pearce Dr in Kamo.
HUD said a rapid rehousing trial would be launched soon with a similar approach to the Housing First programme, but would target individuals and whānau with low to medium complexity of support needs for up to 12 months.
Their needs may include a poor credit history or rental history, or mild mental health issues.
"We are in the process of finalising contracts for provision of a rapid rehousing service in Northland and expect to have around 44 places available with three providers managing the services."
At a glance:
* 716 people on MSD's Social Housing Register in Northland;
* 67 individuals being housed in motels in Whangarei alone;
* 44 places to be available soon under the rapid rehousing trial;
* Increase in Auckland and expat kiwis moving to Northland.