Many people are sleeping rough — outside and in cars — in the inner city because there is nowhere else for them to go, writes Simon Collins.

Record numbers of people are sleeping rough or in cars this winter as Auckland's desperate housing shortage makes life harder than ever for those at the bottom of the city's frantic housing market.

The Auckland City Mission and Lifewise, which work with the homeless, say people are sleeping in cars and outside heating vents at all-night supermarkets and anywhere else they can get some shelter from the cold.

"There are more and more people who are not only rough sleeping but who sleep in their cars and who sleep in accommodation that is inappropriate," said the City Missioner of the past 17 years, Dame Diane Robertson. "The incidence is higher than it has ever been, and it is much more visible than it has ever been.

"If you are being squeezed at the top, and squeezed in the rental market, at the tail end of everything is where you just get pushed out of the market and they just can't find anywhere. So it's a lack of suitable accommodation, and the people we work with are the least likely, or the least desirable, as tenants."

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The latest street count last October found that the numbers sleeping rough within 3km of the Sky Tower more than doubled from 68 in the 2013 count to 147. Although most were men, more women were sleeping rough, up from seven in 2012 to 31. Thirteen more women engaged with the mission's homeless outreach workers for the first time in the three months to April, compared with 25 new men and three transgender people.

Lifewise general manager Moira Lawler said her staff were increasingly seeing people in work and students without housing, as well as the traditional beneficiaries.

"The minute they have work they lose their benefits, but there may be some time before they get their first pay," she said. "Or they think they have work but it turns out that it's a casual job and there's no work this week so they don't pay their rent and they get in arrears, so there is still this mess.

"Some students have come here to university who think they have accommodation lined up and either it's unaffordable or they couldn't get anything to start off with."

Dame Diane said rough sleepers had also become more visible because buildings that were vacant during the recession were now either occupied or demolished to make way for new developments.

"We used to find people in abandoned buildings or half-finished buildings but you actually can't find any in the city now, so people have become more visible and they sleep more overtly."

She said three boarding houses in the inner city had closed to make way for new apartments or offices.

"Ten years ago people were living in boarding houses. That is becoming rarer."

The 40-bed James Liston Hostel in Freemans Bay has been totally turned over to emergency housing for up to three months. Dame Diane, who chairs its board, said the four churches that established it had put in support staff to help people find permanent housing.

Mission outreach worker Charlotte Ama said more people were sleeping rough than in the same mid-winter week in previous years.

Staffordshire bull terrier, have been living in her car for a month after leaving Tauranga this year. Photo / Dean Purcell
Staffordshire bull terrier, have been living in her car for a month after leaving Tauranga this year. Photo / Dean Purcell