A hard-hitting report on the impact of Te Puke's current housing situation on its community is the basis for a hui this Friday.
Co-Lab's Housing Working Group commissioned EmpowermentNZ to compile a report on the complexities, challenges and barriers to housing — a report that also gives a voice to individuals who are or have experienced homelessness or housing stress.
Co-Lab is an informal collective of more than 30 organisations that work together to achieve long-term positive outcomes for Te Puke.
Individuals and families, as well as practitioners working alongside them, were interviewed for the report.
"We got the agreement of several people in the community who were in housing stress, were homeless, as in couch surfing, or who were living on the street," EmpowermentNZ lead social worker Deborah Nicol said.
"We told them it wasn't formal research, but we wanted to hear their stories and see what themes came out."
She said many of the stories were heartbreaking.
"There were stories of housing stress where the biggest issues were unhealthy homes and unmaintained rentals and that impacted on people's health, so they left that rental because of that and found there's no rental to go to so they get into something worse — being somewhere unsafe or staying on the street — then we get into areas of drug dependency and alcohol and there's a vicious cycle then."
One woman is living with her daughter in a three-bedroom house with seven adults and four children, others tell of only having a car to sleep in but being terrified at night, of having to smoke weed just to sleep or of the loneliness of being homeless but preferring that to sharing a house with people who don't pay and who steal.
"There was one person who couldn't fathom paying someone else's mortgage [by paying rent] then not be able to eat or go to the doctor," Nicol said.
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Instead she was living in a car.
The median rent in Te Puke is $450 per week.
In the past five years, more than 1700 people have moved to Te Puke.
Over the same period, the total number of houses has increased by 90 — a 25 per cent increase in population, but a 3.1 per cent increase in houses.
Anecdotally, the number of houses available for rent is on the decline with newcomers buying houses and landlords selling.
"When the latest laws started filtering through with more responsibilities for landlords, we saw quite a spike in rentals being sold and they were being sold to owner-occupiers," Nicol said.
While buying and selling was a perfectly understandable economic decision, it reduced the stock of available housing.
"One of the quotes in the report is there are lots of homes being built, but they are not being built for 'us', they are being built for people with two incomes.
"Two people have said they have been pushed out of the rental market and now there's nothing else under that — one is in his car. He's not happy that as a local, born and bred here, that's what he has to do to stay — because he can't get a home," Nicol said.
EmpowermentNZ was formed three years ago.
"In the last two years we've noticed a huge increase in people coming in with absolutely no options — before there were options we could pull out of a hat and now we either can't pull things out of a hat any more because everything's full — or the options are far from ideal.
"One big trend I've found in a lot of the people we interviewed was childhood trauma had a massive impact on how they viewed the world and how they looked after themselves, how they treated each other and how they treated their houses.
"If you are brought up in survival mode, you are only to be going to make quick-fire decision and quick-fire decisions are usually not that great with money. That impacts on you being able to pay a rental every week or even get a rental — we saw that time and time again. That's a worry."
EmpowermentNZ manager Scott Nicholson said he was optimistic that trends could be reversed.
He said it needed a multi-pronged approach.
"A lot depends on why people are experiencing homelessness and housing stress. Affordability is a huge factor but for the 16-24 bracket, that's not the issue — it's home environment or other factors that are the issue.
"I think it can be reversed but there needs to be a community response."
Nicol said where EmpowermentNZ had been able to find accommodation for people, the organisation had "walked beside them, and when they have wobbled, we have been able to steady them. That has worked brilliantly and that's what we would like to do more of, but there's a resourcing issue".
Nicholson said he would like to see the community engaged: "This isn't someone else's problem, this is our problem.
"It's our problem because all these people affected by this are in our community. Central government and local government are looking for partnerships with the community and are looking for community-led development and what I'm looking for is those concerned people to come together and say, while the problem is way too big for any one of us, together we can achieve something."
A range of organisations and agencies had been invited to the hui but Nicol said Co-Lab wanted as many people as possible who were interested, connected or affected by the issues to attend.
The hui takes place at The Orchard Church this Friday, from 9am to 1pm.