A homeless man is calling on churches or marae to open their arms to the dozens of homeless living in their cars in Dargaville.
Dave Turek has been homeless for just a few weeks and says there are dozens more just like him, sleeping rough and living in their cars in a carpark alongside the "freezing cold" Northern Wairoa river at night.
"Even though I haven't been homeless for long, it's been a bloody eye-opener. I see them every day and they have a routine. It's indescribable, all very well to say you're homeless, but myself and dozens of others are literally living this day to day," he said.
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Figures released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development show 406 families in Northland were on the Social Housing Register at the end of the March quarter compared with 276 for the same period last year.
Kaipara, particularly Dargaville, was the worst affected with a staggering 120 per cent increase year-on-year in the number of waiting families - from 15 to 33.
A spokesman from Kāinga Ora (formerly Housing New Zealand), however, said there was no plan to boost the number of state houses in the Dargaville area despite that increase. But other areas in Northland would be addressed.
"Kāinga Ora has an active presence in Northland, including the Far North. We have around 2200 properties across the Kaipara DC, FNDC, and Whangarei DC catchments. Over the next three years we will be adding up to 150 houses in Kaitaia, Kaikohe and Whangarei."
Turek, who has worked most of his life until a recent injury, said he ended up homeless after defaulting on rent, but claimed it was because the disability benefit he received was impossible to live on.
"I was paying $200 per week in rent and that left me just $78 for bills, travel and food, I just couldn't do it, I couldn't survive.
"Subsequently, I am in the situation I am now, homeless, and there are literally dozens of others like me here in Dargaville."
In 2017 it was first reported that families in the region were living in vans and camping in a local carpark after being evicted from homes recently bought by investors, or retirees - many of them from Auckland.
So Turek doesn't understand why an issue that has been known about for some years now hasn't been addressed.
"I think it may be that a lot of people are turning a blind eye to it because it's not directly affecting them.
"Why won't churches open their doors, by all means we need something here, it is a disgusting state of affairs. Dargaville used to be known as a friendly town and it is, I've got strangers offering me this that and the other, but what we really need is emergency housing."
He also suggested having a 12m container made available for the homeless: "If council or some organisation or group got together and plonked down a 40-foot container to house people, God that would be like a palace.
"I don't think people really understand, until you are in that position where you have literally nothing, that you realise how bad things are, or because it's happening under the cover of darkness, they're not aware.
"Most disappear by sunrise and every night they came back at 8pm, you'll see all these vans and half of them are homeless people and it's just going under the radar.
"It's also very hard to run your life, when you are literally living in your car. It's horrible, the best time is night-time, when there are no people around, it's the only time you really get to sleep.
"If I'm lucky I'll get three hours' sleep, then you put on this persona like you are normal during the day, it's horrible, it's degrading."
Turek said the need for emergency housing isn't just about providing people with shelter, it's about good sanitation too.
"I haven't had a shower for God knows how long. There is no one place, bar the swimming pool [which is closed over winter] or caravan park, where you can pay to have a shower.
"Thank God for public toilets and I've seen other homeless people and that's their shower, you go into the sink and this is like two streets over from Dargaville Winz office.
"A couple I met tell me they've been living in a van for two years. This is reality and this is what really gets me, you can see why people commit suicide. But you have no choice - what have you got, you've got nothing."
A Kaipara District Council spokesman said they were aware of the housing shortage, however they denied responsibility for finding a solution.
"We encourage anyone who is experiencing these difficulties to approach Housing New Zealand and Work and Income in the first instance, as these are the organisations primarily responsible for social and emergency housing."
• Our Northern Advocate reporter witnessed at least half a dozen vehicles parked at night with what appeared to be homeless individuals living in them. A couple she tried to speak to, who had been living in their van for two years, refused to comment to media. Another individual put up his hand when she tried to approach.
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