The plight of two people who have been sleeping on Whanganui's streets shows "the cold brunt" of Whanganui's housing shortage.

Tiffany Haddon and Matthew Tonihi were sitting in a Victoria Ave doorway with their suitcases on Wednesday when two women walked by and asked if they could help.

About the same time - just one block away - the Whanganui District Council was meeting to discuss its proposed housing strategy.

Since taking the pair under their wings on Tuesday, Lee Williams and another woman have been helping them find them temporary accommodation. But they've had no luck so far. Haddon has been homeless for five weeks.

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"We are learning the cold brunt of it," Williams said.

On Wednesday, the homeless pair thought they had secured a cabin at a holiday park for $250 a week.

The two could afford it between them after the other woman helped them out by paying the deposit.

But by Thursday that had fallen through with the holiday park withdrawing the offer and refunding the deposit.

Haddon and Tonihi remain homeless - back to square one.

"And square one is not a pretty square," Williams said.

While Whanganui has about 700 people deemed to be in insecure housing, Haddon believes there could be up to 40 people sleeping rough outside.

"Try about 40, out sleeping in different places, not just in the main street," she said.

"You sleep in doorways or wherever, or they hide away in different places. They're out there, believe me."

Matthew Tonihi and Tiffany Haddon sleep in doorways and sheltered parts of Whanganui's streets. Photo/ Bevan Conley
Matthew Tonihi and Tiffany Haddon sleep in doorways and sheltered parts of Whanganui's streets. Photo/ Bevan Conley

While a homeless Haddon and Tonihi sat on Victoria Ave on Tuesday, Williams went along to hear district councillors discuss the council's draft housing strategy which will soon be out for public consultation.

Actions proposed in the strategy include rates relief for new builds, waiving consent fees, making more land available, encouraging infill housing and finding ways to use empty central city buildings for accommodation.

The council also wants to look at more accessible housing, including advocating for housing options for modest income people.

The council decided to draft a strategy in the wake of Whanganui being picked to become a refugee resettlement centre from next year and the recent sharp increase in population.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said the district's housing crisis had
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said the district's housing crisis had "snuck up" on the council.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said there had been a housing crisis since early 2017 which had "snuck up" with unexpected population growth.

A population of 45,200 is the highest since 1998, councillor Josh Chandulal-Mackay said.

There were 16 to 20 "levers" that can be pulled to increase housing supply, McDouall said, but the council could pull only three or four.

Councillor Jenny Duncan said it was not the council's role to build more houses, only to create an environment where that could happen.

But after Williams' experience helping homeless in Whanganui she said it didn't do enough.

"Council puts a lot of energy and funds towards heritage and beautifying," she said.

"I want some of that money to go into housing. I don't want to pick up people off the street."

The plight of two people who have been sleeping on Whanganui's streets shows "the cold brunt" of Whanganui's housing shortage.

Like Williams, councillor Rob Vinsen had hoped for more solutions.

He said Nelson's council had sold its housing and was using the money to build more.

"I think we have to be far more ambitious," Vinsen said.

Others were pleased with the strategy.

"This is what leadership is about - providing a draft strategy is a really good starting point for a conversation with our community," councillor Kate Joblin said.

There had already been a lot of consultation on the strategy, council staff said.

Councillor Kate Joblin said a draft strategy was a good starting point.
Councillor Kate Joblin said a draft strategy was a good starting point.

It was approved and will go out for submissions for six weeks, starting on May 24.

Meanwhile, Haddon told the Chronicle "this homeless situation sucks in this town" and urged the council to "bloody well do something about it".

People were sleeping "in doorways, or hiding in cubbyholes out of the wind and the wet and the rain".

"[But] there's all these empty buildings, all empty upstairs," she said.