More homeless people in Auckland could soon go straight from the streets into their own apartments or houses instead of being shuffled through emergency shelters or state housing under a new Government-backed move.
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett announced today that $3 million will be invested in an initiative called Housing First, which will be implemented by community groups.
Housing First, which originated in Canada, is based on the idea that people in need should be housed first, before any other issues such as addiction, mental health, or anti-social behaviour are addressed. Its founder, American psychiatrist Sam Tsemberis, visited New Zealand in October to promote the policy.
Bennett met with Tsemberis at the time and said today that the "time is right" for the Government to invest in the scheme because community groups had begun to implement their own Housing First programmes. She said the initiative fitted with the Government's "social investment" approach because it had a proven track record overseas.
"There are some that work with chronic homeless that don't actually believe in emergency housing and night shelters because they think it just perpetuates the problem," the minister said.
"That's where Housing First is quite different, where it gets them into permanent housing and that's the total fixation. And then they work for a period of months to fix any underlying issues."
Charities which work with homeless people are applauding the investment, which comes as the Government is under pressure to address homelessness.
Lifewise chief executive Moira Lawler said new approaches were needed in response to the rising number of people sleeping rough in New Zealand. Her organisation rolled out its own Housing First programme last month.
"The Housing First model says you need to rapidly house people in permanent housing as close to their choice as you can manage," Lawler said.
"It sidesteps the emergency housing and transitional housing. It also sidesteps any prerequisites in terms of behaviours or health. It says house people first and then support them to work on their other issues."
Lawler said there were "subtle barriers" in New Zealand social services that required people to "jump through hoops" before they were independently housed.
"Housing First is about the evidence," she said. "There is the moral issue where we need to consider our right to impose conditions on people. But there is also the science that says people have a better chance of staying housed if you use this model."
The Housing First approach is most advanced in Hamilton, where the People's Project has housed 218 people and supported another 251 people into their own accommodation. The organisation's leader Julie Nelson said 93 per cent of these people remained in their own homes.
Bennett also announced today that a further $6 million would go towards programmes which supported social housing tenants to remain in their houses. She said many families were evicted because they were behind on rent or struggled to cope in their new surroundings, and they ended up in emergency or insecure housing as a result. It made sense to "get alongside them early" and work with them to sustain their tenancy, she said.
Salvation Army Major Pam Waugh described the new funding as "win-win", because it would save Housing New Zealand the costs of evicting and re-filling properties, while also helping families to stay in secure housing.
The total funding package will allow community groups to work with around 2000 people and would be centred on central, west and south Auckland.