Hamilton shows homeless can be housed, and empty city admin building solves Auckland's 'where' question.

The other day, I suggested that if the Auckland Council was serious in wanting to end the "rough sleeper" problem in our city streets, it should check out the Housing First initiative in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Over the past 10 years, by organising accommodation on a non-judgmental basis, Utah had reduced the number of chronically homeless from around 2000 to 272.

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It was quickly pointed out to me that there was no need to look overseas. Over the Bombay Hills, in Hamilton, the People's Project, based on the Housing First principles, is getting similarly commendable results. Launched in August last year, it has found homes for 95 homeless, people ranging in age from 15 to 69.


The majority are in private rentals; the retention rate has been around 96 per cent.

Both the Utah and Hamilton projects operate on the principle that if you house the person first, it is then much easier to address the reasons for their homelessness, such as addictions, mental health issues and the like.

Headed by Julie Nelson from private health services provider Wise Group, the project is a partnership that includes Hamilton City Council - Mayor Julie Hardaker chairs the governance committee - police, Ministry of Social Development, Housing NZ, Waikato DHB, probation, the local business association and Te Puni Kokiri.

Once the person - they're mostly male, mostly Maori - is securely housed, the assorted social agencies move in, offering wrap-around support to get them back on their feet.

Meanwhile in Auckland we sit around wringing our hands, writing "feel-good" reports and declaring a vague goal to end rough sleeping in the central city by 2022.

A suggestion. Auckland councillors are endlessly disappearing into workshops for briefings on important issues. Why don't they jump on a bus for the next one, and take a study trip south to the People's Project's Garden Place headquarters in Hamilton.

Auckland's current housing crisis no doubt creates obstacles the Hamiltonians don't have, but in Utah they solved such problems by building new apartment blocks.

What Salt Lake City and Hamilton had in common was they got off their backsides and did something.


Talking of doing nothing, nearly nine months on, the city administration building in Aotea Square remains empty while the bureaucrats cast about among developers for someone to take the building off their hands.

Thankfully, the initial push to demolish has died away, officials having conceded it is worthy of at least category B historic heritage building scheduling in the new unitary plan.

This is mentioned in passing in the consultation document on the future of Aotea Quarter, to be released early next month, seeking public help.

The document highlights the bureaucracy's love-hate affair with the administration building.

Last year they told councillors "the economically rational decision would be to demolish the building". They now concede its heritage attributes, observing that with the Aotea Centre and adjacent Bledisloe House, it is "the product of the more modernist, mid-century era" contributing "to the rich built form of the quarter".

But the report can't resist snarling a few pages further on that "the building has been plagued by asbestos issues over a number of decades, and is showing its age."

As it went up in only 1966, an asbestos plague lasting a number of decades seems a gross exaggeration. As for showing its age, that happens to all of us when maintenance is deferred.

On a more positive note, the report notes the original concept design had "flanking podiums two or three storeys high", and says "there is an opportunity to realise this and to address the frontage to Mayoral Drive".

The podiums would provide "active ground floors such as retail or internal social spaces." There is silence about the possibilities of the floors above. No mention, for instance, of turning it into an administration hub for Auckland arts organisations, a proposal that has long been canvassed by council in arts circles.

No mention either of extracting Auckland Transport and other arms of council from their expensive harbour-view rental offices downtown, and installing them back in the bosom of the family.

I didn't even spot any reference to an early sounding of commercial developers, which suggested that the best reuse of the tower would be residential. Now what were saying about housing rough sleepers?