Kenny Dahl has been waiting for a home for 25 years.

He was sleeping on a single mattress on the footpath outside the Auckland District Court last night.

"I actually don't find it that bad," he said. "It's a lifestyle that I've adjusted to.

"But I need to be indoors. My body is sore, I'm just really sore inside, my liver and kidney, from too much drinking."

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Dahl, 43, has been living on the street since age 18. He never found a home again after serving time for armed robbery.

He was one of hundreds of homeless who were counted and interviewed as part of the first Auckland-wide head count last night.

Between 9.30pm and midnight, up to 1000 volunteers scoured Auckland streets, alleyways, bushes and graveyards in an attempt to get a more accurate estimate of the rough sleeping population.

Dahl thinks he has been on the waiting list for social housing for 18 months, though he is not certain.

Kenny Dahl, 43, says he has been homeless for 25 years. Photo / Leon Mendes
Kenny Dahl, 43, says he has been homeless for 25 years. Photo / Leon Mendes

He said life had become more difficult after he had his right leg amputated beneath the knee.

Desmond Keen, 33, said he slept under a bridge near the Auckland waterfront, or in an abandoned house in Myers Park.

He had been sleeping rough for six years. After a failed trip to Australia in search of work in the mines, he returned to New Zealand and said he was abandoned by family.

"The first time I became homeless, it hit me. I thought what am I going to do?" he said.

"Most of my family are all rich and well-off. All of them are business owners. And I've got a cold, hard life."

Partly because of shame, he said he had not yet had the guts to ask for housing support.

"My complete goal is to get my Housing First house or Housing NZ house.

"Because once I've got a house I can build up from there, put my life back to together. I want my life back. I don't know who I am at the moment, it sucks."

Newstalk ZB joins volunteers on the homeless census:

The volunteers worked in groups of three last night to cover the area from Wellsford in the north to Waiuku in the south, and from Piha in the west to Hunua Ranges in the east.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff was among them, and went out with a group who were walking the streets in Mangere.

He said there was a "sense of shame" at the number of people living on the streets.

While there had always been some homeless in Auckland, it had worsened in the past 20 years because of population growth, the cost of housing, and a slowdown in the provision of social housing, Goff said.

A University of Otago study in 2015 estimated there were around 4200 rough sleepers across the country, and about 771 in Auckland.

The final numbers from last night's count will be published next month. The council will then talk to the Government and NGOs about its response.

The main response to homelessness so far has been the Housing First programme, which puts people directly into permanent houses – rather than temporary shelters – before dealing with any mental health or addiction issues.

It has housed 582 people since it was established in Auckland 16 months ago, mostly in private rentals, and around 85 per cent of them have remained in the houses.