Whanganui District Council staff have responded to 21 complaints related to homelessness in the city during the past eight weeks.
The council's housing and community officer Jasmine Hessell said the majority of complaints were related to where people were staying.
Staff had responded by working with the Whanganui District Health Board, Ministry of Social Development and community support agencies to help with housing needs.
Hessell was appointed to the newly-established role a year ago and said it had been a challenging time.
In a report to the council's strategy and finance committee this week, Hessell said underutilised council-owned sites had been investigated for social housing potential.
"We now have a legal baseline available for 13 council-owned blocks of land to support the process to free up this land for housing purposes. This includes two sites Kāinga Ora [the public housing agency] is interested in currently."
Councillor Graeme Young asked whether anyone had been housed during the year.
"It seems that homeless people and other people that need to be housed are not getting any closer," Young said.
Hessell said the shortage of affordable housing in Whanganui required solutions that would be long-lasting and provide security for people needing housing and for the community.
"You could do it really fast and deliver a whole lot more problems," said Hessell.
"You need to do it once and you need to do it right."
Hessell said Kāinga Ora staff were very aware of the urgent need to provide more housing in Whanganui but were "tuned in" to the need to get it right and not create more social problems.
Councillor James Barron asked if the council's freedom camping bylaw introduced in December 2021 was a help or a hindrance to council staff responding to homelessness.
Hessell said while the bylaw provides helpful parameters for freedom campers and council staff, the timing of the bylaw's introduction was unfortunate as it coincided with a rise in homelessness and a shortage of emergency and transitional housing in Whanganui, leaving some people staying at freedom camping sites with nowhere else to go.
She reported that there were currently around 36 people living in the city in vehicles and tents and said a "core group" of long-term homeless had complex needs, while the Whanganui DHB had advised that their specialist housing was at capacity.
Hessell said council officers had put forward a proposal to Kāinga Ora and a local housing provider for the establishment of a set of new community group houses designed for residents with high and complex needs.
Whanganui District Council's Housing Strategy, adopted in July 2019, has the aspirational vision to ensure that "everyone in Whanganui has the right housing opportunities and a great neighbourhood to live in".
Although not mandated to provide social housing beyond its pensioner housing stock, the council committed to "rethink Whanganui's housing stock and availability" as part of the strategy.
Councillor Kate Joblin, who initiated the strategy, said a strong buy-in from the community was essential to implementing the strategy and it was frustrating and disappointing that there were no immediate solutions.
"I know the term 'perfect storm' gets bandied around a lot but the circumstances of the last two years really have affected everyone's ability to make progress with housing solutions," Joblin said.
"Despite that, Jasmine has made a lot of inroads into investigating long-term solutions."
Joblin said Whanganui's population, once projected to decrease, had grown rapidly in recent years, and state-owned social housing had decreased when more than 160 properties were sold to private buyers under the previous Government.
Hessell reported that the next significant planning work to support the housing strategy was the preparation of a residential spatial plan which would inform the council's District Plan in terms of residential design.