With winter upon us it becomes harder to ignore the homeless. Where do they go, the people we see, or try not to see, lying in urban alcoves or parks, wrapped in all their ragged possessions, not looking at us either.
They blank us out of their world as effectively as we blank them. They are not beggars, and most beggars are not homeless we're told. Rough sleepers appear to want nothing but to be left alone and be invisible.
Very occasionally an intrepid newspaper reporter will get alongside them. One who did so was Tony Wall who, years ago when he worked for the Herald, spent a night with them, possibly more than one night.
His reports were memorable for the dignity he allowed them. He didn't romanticise them or victimise them. He listened to those who would engage with him and reported what they said, not what social researchers would think accurate or suitable to report.
The homeless saw themselves as free spirits choosing not to be confined in four walls, ranging around the inner city, knowing where cafeterias discard good food, where public facilities could be used and returning most nights to some crude shelter they had found.
It was hard to believe they had chosen their predicament but not hard to admire the vestigial pride that made them refuse to be objects of sympathy. I wonder where they go in June when the chill arrives and rain turns to sleet.
Into doss houses, hopefully, "emergency accommodation" such as the James Liston Hostel in Freemans Bay which has just been refurbished with $4 million in grants from Housing NZ and the Auckland Council. That can take up to 55 people.
Nobody knows how many people are sleeping rough around Auckland at any time. In 2016 the City Mission counted 177 within 3km of the Sky Tower. A wider count around the region last September found 179 people sleeping rough and 157 in cars, all adults.
But this was reckoned to be an underestimate attributed to "people not wanting to be found" and volunteers being advised not to enter unsafe places such as abandoned buildings. Based on that count the number was estimated to be 800. At that time there were 2874 people in temporary or emergency accommodation and they should be counted too because those places are not a home.
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Emergency hostels will probably have social workers though, they are first base for anyone who wants to be helped. The real hope for the homeless is that there is now a second base.
Five community agencies in central, west and south Auckland have become social entrepreneurs for a programme called Housing First that aims to get the chronically homeless into homes they can call their own.
Essentially, the tax-funded agencies become property managers for private landlords willing to let their houses to the previously homeless.
The landlords pay no management fee. They are guaranteed rent for the length of the tenancy and assured any damage to the house beyond normal wear and tear will be repaired.
Housing First undertakes to visit tenants weekly and see that they are receiving help for the problems that underlie homelessness, usually mental illness and addictions. The tenants are given a choice of house and location. They also have a say in the social supports they receive and can disengage with other services so long as they maintain contact with Housing First.
The idea originated in the United States and was first trialled here in Hamilton where it housed 843 people and 95 per cent of them are still in their house. It was introduced in Auckland in late 2016 for a two year trial and appears to be working.
The previous Government funded the trials and the scheme has been eagerly adopted by this one. Its latest Budget provided it with another $197m. The programme is being extended to other cities.
So far it has set up 720 households nationwide out of 1064 accepted for assistance, so it clearly needs to convince more landlords to sign on.
Those 720 households include 452 children, which suggests it is reuniting families where a parent had been on the street. In fact in Auckland the scheme has housed slightly more females (258) than males (245), which might not mean the women were on the street.
Statistics NZ defines homelessness as being not just people without shelter but those in "temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household or living in uninhabitable housing".
That was the definition that allowed Phil Twyford to claim there were "40,000 homeless" at the last election.
But overcrowded or substandard accommodation sounds better than homelessness. I hope the entrepreneurs are giving priority to those poor people out in the cold.