Homelessness in Whanganui is a serious problem and the signs are that it is not getting better.
A gathering of around 100 people turned out for a meeting at Whanganui Community House for a discussion on the possibility of establishing a homeless shelter in the city.
While there was a range of perspectives on how best to assist the homeless population, everyone who spoke at the meeting shared the view that the community needs to address the problem urgently.
The meeting on Monday was initiated by Community House manager Shelley Loader who wanted to create a starting point to bring support groups and individuals together to "find out what's going on, what's being done, and what still needs to be done".
The meeting was facilitated by Whanganui District Council's community wellbeing manager Lauren Tamehana, who said it was a good opportunity to find out what is on offer and how different agencies could support each other.
"Not everyone is sure what other support is available," she said.
"It is a good opportunity to find out how we can work together."
Representatives from a wide number of community and government support agencies, iwi-led organisations, and church groups spoke about the support they currently offer and how they would like to extend their services.
People's Centre manager Sharon Semple said her agency had supported 387 Whanganui people with their housing and financial needs during the past two years.
"At the moment we are working with 40 people who are homeless and their needs are complex," Semple said.
"I'm not in favour of a night shelter because homeless people all have different needs.
"It wouldn't be appropriate to house mothers with children and single men in one facility."
City Mission foodbank manager Karrie Brown also believed that a night shelter was not a solution for people with medium to high needs.
There was general agreement at the meeting that a place for people to shower, wash clothes, charge phones, and safely store their belongings is a priority.
Elise Goodge of Age Concern said she previously worked at the central library in Palmerston North where those services were offered.
"It worked well and people felt comfortable about coming there but we did experience some problems when people had to leave at the end of the day when the library closed," she said.
Tie Scown of Whanganui Community Living Trust said he had experienced homelessness while living in Perth and attended a day support centre there.
"They had the facilities we've been talking about as well as general health and mental health support," said Scown.
"They also had someone coming in to do haircuts and there was free, second-hand clothing available. Being able to stay clean and tidy, look for jobs and stay in touch with people makes a world of difference when you're homeless."
Sherron Sunnex of the Koha Shed said homeless people seeking help have been given "homeless packs" which contain a tent, sleeping bag and other provisions.
"We need immediate solutions," she said.
"We need long-term solutions but we need to offer immediate help to people who are in the situation now."
Others at the meeting agreed and said they had lost whanau members whose health had deteriorated due to long-term homelessness.
One man suggested that as homelessness is an emergency situation, the army could be called in to help.
While most at the meeting agreed that quick action was needed, some said it was essential to include the voices of those who were unable to attend the daytime meeting and an evening meeting should be scheduled as soon as possible.
Stephen Lee of the Wai Ora Christian Community Trust said his organisation is in discussions with MSD and Kainga Ora to provide portable cabins which he hoped would be ready in around three months.
Tupoho representative Gavin Brooks said the iwi was identifying whenua (land) that could be freed up for housing and a Whanganui Anglicans representative said the church was also looking at land that can be used for low-cost housing.
Whanganui deputy mayor Jenny Duncan and councillor Helen Craig said they were at the meeting to listen and learn how the council can best support the homeless population.
They were questioned about the council's proposed freedom camping bylaw and some agency representatives said it will adversely affect their clients.
The councillors said the way to address those concerns was to make a submission to the council so those views could be considered and possibly incorporated in the bylaw.
The council has allocated a budget of $4.2m in its long-term plan for housing and will be consulting the community on the best use of the fund over the next two to three years.
Loader said she felt really good about the meeting and the number of people who attended.
"We have an amazing community full of people and organisations who really care and who are already doing amazing things to support the homeless so we were expecting a big turnout and the issues raised are all things we all already know and come up against every day."
Loader said there will now be a second meeting for those unable to attend on Monday. It will follow the same format and will be held at Community House, 60 Ridgway St on Tuesday, August 3, at 5.30pm.