Madison

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It’s Not a Choice…

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What is your first thought when you see a homeless person? Is it sadness? Repulsion? Annoyance? Did they choose this life or was it thrust upon them? Do you avert your gaze and pretend they don’t exist when you walk by thinking “what a bloody eyesore I wish someone would move them on”? I don’t want the PC answer here, I want your first instinctive reaction when you see a homeless person before your humanity intervenes… Or, perhaps you are completely unaware of the ever increasing problem of homelessness in New Zealand?

Working in Auckland City the issue of homelessness is highly visible to me. I find it disturbing and at times feel powerless to help! So I’m putting my money where my mouth is, I’m sleeping rough tomorrow night in the streets of Auckland as part of “The Lifewise Big Sleepout”.

It is very unclear how big the problem of homelessness is. It was only in 2009 that Statistics New Zealand defined what being homeless actually meant: “living situations where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing are without shelter, in temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household, or living in uninhabitable housing”. Corie Haddock, co-chair of the New Zealand Coalition to End Homelessness (NZCEH), says whatever the number of homeless is, it’s growing. “The current environment that we’re living in is putting more and more pressure on people in society, so we’re seeing solo mothers and single males; they’re all there, they’re all represented. Homelessness is actually a consequence of poverty, so if you’re responding to poverty you’re responding to homelessness either directly or indirectly through intervention or prevention”.

“New Zealand’s response to homelessness lags behind other developed countries”, Downtown Community Ministry Director Sarah McIntyre says. “We don’t know the numbers and we don’t have a co-ordinated strategy from the Government. Services are fragmented and people regularly fall through the gaps. Kids are expelled from school, or are released from foster care, or come out of prison, and there’s little support to help them”. What’s important about that is it recognises homelessness isn’t just street sleeping. It’s also people in night shelters, hostels and boarding houses; about the “hidden homeless”: the permanent couch-surfers, the families sleeping in a relative’s garage, crammed in a single room or sleeping in a car parked outside a friend’s place.

The problem is, in New Zealand, there’s nowhere to put them. Says McIntyre: “We’ve got a massive shortage of affordable housing. Certainly at the moment that’s exacerbated by what is a very good upgrade that’s going on of council flats, but that means there’s very few available”.

So I know many may think of the much used cliché when it comes to such a large problem – what can I do to help? How will MY sleeping rough for just one night raise awareness about this serious problem facing a growing number of people throughout New Zealand? Well, I am fortunate to be able to meet, help and at times influence some very interesting and capable people in the NZ business community. Whether this means an increased awareness and consequently investment from corporates or local government, ultimately it goes towards the overall success of NZ as a country and a place that can truly “accommodate” our most vulnerable. My belief is that as a city and a country we have the heart and the resources to do better, to help people to help themselves. It may seem like a big ask, but imagine the gains if we can house, socialise and then further down the track get some of the homeless into the workforce…

If you’d like to support Lifewise in their efforts to help people in need through the Big Sleepout even tomorrow, click here