Youth homelessness is on the rise in Whangārei, prompting a number of organisations to look into a housing plan that includes wraparound support specifically designed for young people's needs.
They are lamenting the fact while there were emergency or transitional housing provisions in Whangārei designed for adults, no such bespoke support was available to cater for their survival.
A project steering and youth advisory group including 155 Whare Āwhina, Whangārei Youth Space, Te Ora Hou, Northland Urban Rural Mission, Mahitahi Hauora, Ngāti Hine Health Trust and Pehiaweri Marae are working to identify youth housing needs and solutions.
Youth advisory group Whare Finders interviewed 18 taitamariki between the ages of 16 and 25, Māori and non-Māori, in Whangārei between October and December last year to understand their varied experiences of housing deprivation and solutions.
A report, funded by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and compiled following the study also included an anonymous online survey of those aged between 16 and 24 that elicited 152 responses.
"We've always had young people who have had issues with homelessness but over the last couple of years, it seems to have gotten worse. We really want to see bespoke youth housing solutions," report author Ngaire Rae said.
A 24-year-old who arrived in Whangārei last year spent two weeks sleeping in her nana's car as the latter only had a one-bedroom house. She said she has not seen youth homelessness as bad anywhere else in New Zealand as in Whangārei.
She has lived in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland and everywhere in between.
"There's a homeless shelter up north I know of but that's specifically for older adults. I've never seen anything specifically for youths whereas that's much needed, especially here in Whangārei."
The volunteer worker, who wished to keep her identity secret, has lost count of the number of times she has moved from house to house outside Northland since the age of 16.
"I was working but didn't have a place to live. When you're young, you don't know what's out there, you don't really know what organisations are going to be able to help you.
"You just go straight back to family and I am one of the lucky ones that has had a family whereas there's heaps of kids out there that don't have a family."
She is studying for a Bachelor in Social Studies and wants to live and work in Whangārei upon her graduation.
Rae said although there was awareness of the housing crisis facing our community and country, only in the last couple of years has there been a focus on the specific needs of taitamariki.
There were only two organisations that provided a youth-centered approach to housing in Whangārei, she said.
Maia House supports pregnant or young parents under 19 and the other option helped taitamariki transition from the care of Oranga Tamariki.
Many taitamariki, she said, were not without shelter but rather lived in precarious and temporary housing situations that relied on the goodwill of others.
She said the need for a youth-focused approach to housing has been affirmed by community, youth, health, housing and social service providers throughout Whangārei.
"Currently, if you're a young person and you're homeless and you're 16 or 17, your options are very limited. If you're between 18 and 24, then as a young person you can get to emergency or transitional housing providers if they have space.
"But the services aren't specifically designed for young people, they're designed for adults. If we had a specific emergency housing service for young people, it would need 24/7 onsite support connecting them back to whānau or supporting them with education and training and employment," Rae said.
Rae said the lack of attention paid to youth housing needs was reflected in the dearth of statistics available on the issue.
The limited local data available revealed Māori aged between 15 and 29 were eight times more likely to access an Emergency Housing Grant (EHG) than non-Māori, she said.
Of the 1082 individuals who received EHG in Whangārei from 2017 to 2020, she said 80 per cent or 822 were Māori, of whom 40 per cent were aged between 15 and 29.
"As housing supply diminishes, young people are at the bottom of the list for getting those houses. Young people will tell you they feel really actively discriminated against by landlords and if you're a private landlord, you're not going to rent your house to young people.
"Or it might be they needed to work through a range of different trauma that has happened for them. These young people are working, they just can't afford a house," Rae said.
She said discussions were happening with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Ministry of Social Development and Kāinga Ora about possible options, including bespoke houses for homeless youths.
Housing deprivation, Rae said, has a broad definition that ranged from people sleeping rough or in cars, through to couch surfing, being transient or living in housing that was substandard and overcrowded.
One Double Five Community House chief executive Liz Cassidy-Nelson youth homelessness tended to be "invisible" because of a lack of data.
The rising trend in terms of housing accessibility and affordability in general continued unabated, she said.
"If anything, we've lost some emergency housing stock in relation to the world reopening and our growing population, so there's huge concerns," she said.
A HUD spokeswoman said the ministry currently delivered a small number of rangatahi/youth-focused transitional housing and Budget 2022 funding would be used to expand this service.
Funding would also be used to deliver a new supported housing service for rangatahi/young people with higher and more complex needs, she said.
"Almost half of the people experiencing homelessness in New Zealand are under 25 years old. We know that more needs to be done to support our rangatahi and we made it our priority."
Whangārei MP Emily Henderson said affordable and suitable housing mattered and she has given everyone involved in finding solutions to youth homelessness her full support.
"This is a problem that has very deep and diverse roots."