At least one family every three days is now seeking housing help across Auckland because their only place to live is a car.
A Salvation Army survey of people who sought housing help in three months of the past year has found that 32 households, comprising 41 adults and 30 children, were living in cars or other vehicles.
That's about 10 every month, or one every three days.
The figure is likely to be an under-estimate because it included only five of the Salvation Army's 13 Auckland branches, plus its Epsom Lodge hostel and De Paul House on the North Shore.
Researcher Reina Harris said the survey was originally planned for one month last November, but was repeated in February and May this year to expand the sample.
The final sample was 394 households, comprising 617 adults and 568 children.
She said the researchers were surprised 30 children were living in cars.
"People have a perception that it's just older single people that are in those situations," she said.
"That is totally incorrect - this is a new reality."
The finding is in line with official data listing 65 households on the social housing waiting list who were living in cars in March this year, and 50 in June.
Households seeking help from the Salvation Army or De Paul House were most likely to be living with family or friends (152) or in houses or flats (73). Ms Harris said many living in houses or flats were probably also sharing with others.
"There is an increasing number of families, especially single-woman families with children, that are becoming homeless in those situations," she said.
Others seeking help included 30 households with 13 children who were sleeping "outside", 17 households in backpackers or boarding houses, 16 in refuges and emergency housing, 15 in motels, 14 in camping grounds and 14 newly released prisoners.
Maori were four times more likely than average to be in housing need, making up only 11 per cent of Auckland's population but 43 per cent of those asking for housing help.
Pacific people were 15 per cent of the population and 22 per cent of those seeking housing help.
Europeans were 59 per cent of the population but only 30 per cent of those with housing problems.
Fewer than half (170) of the 394 households that answered the survey had applied to Work and Income for social housing, and only 123 of those had completed the agency's housing assessment.
The researchers recommend a law to guarantee children a right to adequate shelter, plus 1000 more social housing units in Auckland every year for the next 10 years and better access to Work and Income for people with housing needs.
Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said a legal right to housing for children was "a really good proposal" and 1000 social housing units a year was "a very sensible recommendation".
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said the Government was working on funding 300 new social housing units in Auckland and 120 new places in emergency housing, and would "continue to engage with the Salvation Army" about social housing reform.
Winz worker leaves mum in tears
A South Auckland family living in their car say they told by Work and Income: "You guys are not going to get any housing."
Young mother Elizabeth Gase, whose daughter Emerald was not quite 17 months old, left the agency's Clendon office in tears.
Ms Gase, her partner Wallace Zinck and their daughter had been living in their car for a week after two difficult years living with Mr Zinck's family in New Lynn.
"It was just conflict every day, either between his family and us, or him and his family, or me and him," Ms Gase said. "So my partner and I made the decision just to leave."
Mr Zinck had been unemployed since early this year so they lived on a benefit, and went to the Work and Income office near Ms Gase's mother's home in Clendon to request a hardship grant for food and petrol.
The receptionist asked them what they had done to find a house. When Ms Gase said they were applying for social housing, she said she was told: "Well you guys are not going to get any housing. You can have an appointment at 4pm [for the hardship grant]."
Donna Potini, an advocate for Auckland Action Against Poverty who was there with her son, saw Ms Gase crying and and took the couple back to try again. "I spoke to the receptionist and said, 'They have a child with no food'," Ms Potini said.
The agency approved the hardship grant and paid for them to stay that night in a cabin at an Avondale motor camp.
They were given an A9 priority for social housing. It is understood the A scale runs from A1 to a high of A20, and applicants currently need at least A12 to get a house within a few weeks.
Work and Income paid for the family to stay at the motor camp for two and a half weeks, then at a motel in Henderson, then at another one in Te Atatu costing $770 a week.
But the money has to be repaid, and the family moved out this week afraid of the mounting debt.
Meanwhile, Mr Zinck started work on November 6 as a rubbish truck runner with Onyx at $16 an hour. Work and Income told the family their housing application had been put on hold because of this change and would be cancelled unless they provided two pay slips showing Mr Zinck's income by November 24.
Social Development Ministry associate deputy chief executive Marama Edwards said Ms Gase's priority had now been reassessed at A12 but was "on hold while we wait for income details to be provided".
Hikoi for homes
March from Glen Innes to Orakei; also in Wellington and Christchurch.
When: Saturday, midday.
Who: Child Poverty Action Group, Auckland Action Against Poverty, unions.
Why: Seeking a legal right to housing, $1 billion a year for social housing, higher rental standards.