This is all over the internet at the moment, and it is real. A problem facing way too many normal New Zealanders. I am aware of the suggestion that the only ones we hear about are the ones who come from a place of poverty in the first place, but I thought, maybe we can give it some context here, by talking about the homeless people you don’t see. Because, honestly they are the majority of homeless.
In New Zealand, homelessness is officially defined as having no options to acquire safe and secure housing” Homeless is rampant in this country, and is not isolated to Auckland. A little more from the 2014 Parliamentary Support Reasearch Paper on Homelessness:
- According to the working group, there are four categories of homelessness:
- Without shelter: No shelter or makeshift shelter. Examples include living on the street and inhabiting improvised dwellings, such as shacks or cars.
- Temporary accommodation: Overnight shelter or 24-hour accommodation in a non-private dwelling not intended for long-term living. These include hostels for the homeless, transitional supported accommodation for the homeless, and women’s refuges. Also in this category are people staying long-term in motor camps and boarding houses.
- Sharing accommodation: Temporary accommodation for people through sharing someone else’s private dwelling. The usual residents of the dwelling are not considered homeless.
- Uninhabitable housing: Dilapidated dwellings where people reside. 
So there are the homeless who live on the street, in a car, or a doorway. Right through to people couch surfing their friends good will.
My experience of homelessness taught me that people on the edges of that definition; staying in a caravan on someone holiday grounds, like my family did, or living in St Vincent DePaul houses, or other shelters, or women’s refuge houses, don’t identify themselves as homeless. Likely due to the negative connotations and stereotypes about what people believe about you when you are homeless.
My experience was innocent, and I had no understanding of what an awful combination of events, ranging from terminal illness, family deaths and grief, a botched business deal and a house sale that went disastrously wrong, a chronic illness and a highly complex and life threatening pregnancy played in why it was that we got out holiday in the caravan, just dad and us little kids. The big kids stayed with family friends to reduce the impact on their exam years in school. Mum was in hospital seriously ill. (Shout out to the services offerred by what was then National Women’s hospital in Auckland, and Pregnancy support volunteers who’s hard work means that I have a little brother).
Those of us who hung out in the caravan, well, we viewed it as an opportunity to have a holiday of sorts. We had our Dad, and camp cooking, and uncomfortable beds, but that felt just like every other holiday we had spent at the beach in the summer. There was joy, and fun. I don’t know how Dad held it together to be honest. Our belongings were in the garages of various friends. Some would not survive intact.
From the caravan, we managed to get an emergency space in the Saint Vincent De paul emergency house in the central city. It was a big old house, with all sorts of homeless by life people in it. There were refugees, what I am sure now was a beaten wife and her small daughter. I remember her folding washing. There were older people, struggling with dementia and people like us, just caught on the wrong end of a bad business deal.
We would make sandwiches and soup and flasks of tea and coffee, and take them to the people who lived a teir below us on the streets. Some of them were scary.. more were sad. Some of these were addicts and struggled with mental illness, though who knows what came first, the pain or the self medication.
We were then quite quickly given a state house in Ponsonby. Because my Dad had maintained employment throughout, it was not long till we were back in permanent, safe, accommodation. We were lucky. We were resourced with skills like how to budget, and an income that could meet our costs once we overcame the worst of it. We knew how to tighten the belt without risking our health and lives.
This belief that people have that poor people make bad life choices and should just make better choices, work harder and fix things themselves belies the principles on which this country was built, of the principles of our treaty: Partnership, Participation, Protection. Whether you are unaware of the treaty, or whether you think it should be filed away under “P” for “Pain in the arse” it is still a living document that we need to respect.
People living in cars and garages, shipping containers and motels. This is not acceptable. This is not what we stand for. This is not who we should be. I hope to follow this post up with some other peoples real life experiences of dealing with HNZ and WINZ. So, if you have one, that you are willing to have shared, anonymously in the next piece, good or bad, Please, pm me, on the blog facebook page, or email me here.