Research by the Auckland City Mission shows the number of homeless in the Auckland CBD doubled between 2013 and 2014 and almost tripled in the four years from 2010 to 2014. This growth in the number of people living on the streets has been highly visible in the central city but now extends into the greater Auckland region.
Yet the city does not offer the most basic amenity to start turning this problem around - a night shelter.
Until 2012, a partnership of the major churches owned and operated a 30-bed night shelter at the top of Airedale St. When that facility closed, so did the provision of food, clothing, health and social services that had been provided in addition to emergency shelter.
While there has been talk since about rectifying this situation, the void in the provision of the most basic human necessities has endured for three years now. In New Zealand's largest city this is an extraordinary lack.
Uninformed rhetoric commonly and wrongly labels living on the streets as a "lifestyle choice". There are many reasons an individual may end up homeless. Real choice is rarely one of them.
Most of our homeless are victims of either Auckland's deepening housing crisis or physical or emotional abuse or neglect. They may suffer from disability, mental health or addiction issues, have little or no formal education, or a combination of such factors.
Homelessness is a complex issue for which there is no straightforward answer. However, it is undoubtedly a social, not a lifestyle, issue.
Criminalising homelessness is no solution at all. Arresting and punishing people, only then to return them to the streets, is nonsensical. Add to that the inevitable cost to the state for resources that would be engaged - police, the court, duty lawyers, community probation, health services, prisons - and it is bewildering that proposed policies of this nature get any traction at all.
Without a stable base, homeless people have no access to social services that might enable them to begin confronting the underlying reasons they are on the streets. Further, as long as they are left to live on the streets without support, they will be exposed not only to the elements but also to harm (such as physical and sexual violence) from others.
We have seen a number of incidents of fatal violence against homeless people in the past few years alone.
While the charitable sector has historically delivered night shelter facilities in Auckland, this model is no longer feasible. Organisations are now operating social service programmes within a competitive context. It can only be assumed night shelters are now seen as economically unviable and unsustainable. The absence of a succession plan before the closure of the previous shelter in 2012, and the lack of meaningful progress within the sector towards a replacement in the past three years, supports this assumption.
The Auckland Council can no longer simply point to this historical model and relinquish responsibility. Trying to better understand the causes of the issue and raising awareness is helpful but it is not enough. Homelessness in Auckland has become desperate.
While it is time for the Auckland Council to lead a response, there is a real opportunity for other sectors to contribute and take collective responsibility. The corporate sector would be an obvious partner. Homeless people sleeping or begging in the doorways of commercial premises is a daily sight and there is a growing disquiet about the impact on the commercial landscape.
By contributing to funding a night shelter in Auckland, corporations could raise their philanthropic profile while mitigating the detrimental impact of homelessness.
The international reputation of Auckland is at risk. New Zealand's largest and most prosperous city should lead the country by example. Visitors to Auckland are greeted by the sight of our homeless on the streets " a stark contradiction to the "most liveable" status Auckland craves. The city's failure to provide basic human needs is on display for all to see.
The issue has stagnated for too long. It is an indictment on our city and those who have the power to make a difference, but do nothing. "Na takaroa, na takahe" - because of delay, things come to nothing. I call on each of you to take action on this urgent situation.
Michelle Kidd QSM works with the homeless as a trustee of Te Rangimarie Charitable Trust.
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