A retired senior manager for Housing New Zealand contacted me recently regarding the homeless situation in Rotorua.
He was responsible for all community housing in New Zealand at one time.
I have known him for more than 20 years so appreciated his call and the advice he gave me as a Rotorua Lakes councillor.
We agreed on many points but he did stress: "If you don't know what you're doing in this area you could make a bad situation worse."
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His advice was proceed cautiously, work collaboratively with those experienced in this area and do not get agitated, how did he guess, by those with good intentions but little understanding of the complexities of homelessness.
New Zealand's growing homeless problem is an issue that must be addressed by central and local government.
As a council we need to understand the relationship between homelessness and the health, social services and also criminal justice system.
They are all in the mix. The root causes of homelessness have not been seriously addressed for years.
New Zealanders have struggled to house themselves and their families. There is a lack of affordable housing to rent and buy.
Many are finding it difficult to get work and are experiencing personal hardship, seeing no way out.
For some their physical and mental health has suffered. They are not able to work. Sadly thousands have ended up sleeping on the streets. Sleeping rough.
At present RLC is working to support the establishment of a night shelter to move the homeless from the streets over winter.
However a temporary shelter for a period of time is no substitute for stable housing. The homeless also need the necessary support for underlying mental health and other issues to stabilise their lives.
These can only be provided by experienced and skilled practitioners. A night shelter is a laudable short-term solution but we should be working to end homelessness. Different thinking, and actions, are required to address both these areas.
All community stakeholders and interested parties must be prepared to work collaboratively.
Those with little experience but with passion and energy are a breath of fresh air. However housing the homeless is a hard and difficult job.
Many have given up when they realise the amount of work required.
If you are seeking government funding to set up a new entity there will be criteria to meet.
The Government, usually the Ministry of Social Development, wants to know who is getting the money and if there is a track record to show you can deliver.
It is the taxpayer's money after all. They will want to know who you are currently working with, the range of networks you have and the strength of your local relationships.
Are you connected with iwi as well? Do you know the local housing providers and other accommodation brokers?
Most property owners are reluctant to put their major investment into rental housing for the homeless.
They are not seen as tenants of first choice. Neighbours can be downright unwelcoming, citing both property and personal safety concerns.
Parents worry about child safety and sometimes request a meeting with police. Often objections are received by council for housing consents, when finally a suitable house is found to accommodate the homeless.
Being homeless is a traumatic event. You are dealing with people who have sometimes, for years, been left to their own devices. In many instances if they could, they would prefer to leave it that way.
Everyone who has an interest in seeing the homeless housed in Rotorua must be prepared to collaborate, otherwise both short and long-term results will not be achieved.
There are already committed people working in this area and have been for many years. Homelessness and sleeping rough is not new.
There are government agencies and frontline service providers who have worked away quietly on various fronts. They are rarely in the newspaper.
Their work is difficult enough and they require all their energy to focus on the job at hand. Every day they are placing individuals and families into accommodation.
They are experienced and trained for the work they do. They have strong relationships with partners built on trust, openness and good faith.
They agree to a shared vision for supporting and housing the homeless that is outcome focused.
They are tracking progress and co-ordinating activities. I know their work. I am grateful for their continued commitment and compassion for those less able to care and house themselves in our community.