Labour's new emergency housing promise is a vast improvement on its last effort.

That's because there has been a vast increase in the problem.

Labour would increase funding to provide temporary accommodation for an extra 5100 people a year who fall into the category of homeless - including people living in temporary over-crowded houses with friends or family, marae like Te Puea, boarding houses, hostels, in cars or living rough.

Otago University research estimates that 42,000 people are homeless (an increase of 25 per cent over seven years) and 4200 are sleeping rough.


It is unlikely that the homeless are sitting around applauding the latest policy announcement from Labour or National's new policy announcements just before the Budget.

But the lives of many of them could be improved for long enough to find a more permanent solution.

On top of National's funding for 3000 emergency places a year, Labour's extra would be enough for a total 8100 places a year total for the homeless.

Compare that to the last election when Labour estimated its pledges would house an extra 1000 places.

Most of its promises sounded like political platitudes: develop a homelessness strategy; investigate under-use of state houses; initiate a ministerial inquiry into homelessness, and use $5 million of existing funding for a contestable fund for emergency housing providers such as the Salvation Army and Monte Cecilia Housing Trust in Auckland.

Astonishingly, until this year's Budget there was no dedicated funding for emergency housing at all.

The emergency housing providers relied on the proverbial oily rag and charity.

National essentially accepted Labour's principle of a contestable fund.

The bulk of the Government's $41.1 million budgeted for emergency housing over four years is to fund providers like the Sallies for 3000 places (assuming that each place has a turnover every three months). The other $8 million is for Work and Income to dispense in non-recoverable Special Needs Grants for motels and the likes.

The ratchet effect between National and Labour has produced a much-needed improvement in focus on the homeless.

Now if we could just see some improvement in people's lives.