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Auckland's hidden homeless

LAUREN PRIESTLEY
Last updated 05:00 25/06/2014
emergency accommodation

NO HOME: More people are turning to emergency accommodation in Auckland because they have nowhere to go.

Danielle Bergin
Danielle Bergin from Island Child Charitable Trust.

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They're everywhere.

People are sleeping in cars, garages or "couch surfing" at family and friends' houses all over Auckland because they have nowhere else to go.

And the number of hidden homeless people is rising, housing providers say.

One young mother who spoke to the East & Bays Courier is living in emergency housing provided by Island Child Charitable Trust in Pt England with her two-month-old daughter.

She does not want to be identified for fear it will hurt her chances of getting the Housing New Zealand (HNZ) home she is on a waiting list for.

Her landlord decided to sell her flat only a day after she moved in and the woman moved from couch to couch for about four months.

The 28-year-old has no family to support her and turned to Island Child six months ago when she ran out of options.

"It's frustrating waiting for a house. Going from couch to couch was hard because you feel like you're invading people's space - you don't know how long you'll be there.

"Sleeping on couches is very common. There's more people out east like Pt England, Panmure. It's happening way more now because it's so hard."

Island Child managing director Danielle Bergin says the woman arrived on her doorstep with no money, no transport, no means of communication and pregnant.

"It's very hard to be heavily pregnant and arrive at emergency housing then give birth and return with a newborn, day-old, baby."

Bergin has helped people who've been sleeping in cars at Pt England Reserve and families who've been living in garages.

"So many of our families actually want to break the cycle, they don't want to be welfare dependent, but the process of helping them is so slow. They are falling through the gaps."

An Auckland Council report this year shows about 15,000 people in Auckland are "severely housing deprived".

Lifewise service manager Corie Haddock says the majority of those are unseen.

The number of people coming to the organisation has increased by about 80 per cent in the past year alone, he says.

A growing trend is people sleeping in cars in parking lots with groups of 20 to 30 vehicles at a time, he says.

"In the time I've been here we've seen the numbers climb and climb. At some point we're just going to have to put our hands up and say ‘we've got a problem'. We've got to do something about it and it's got to be done soon.

"There's a number of reasons behind the rise but first and foremost we have a housing crisis in this city."

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Nadia Abu-Shanab says it is often the most vulnerable people without homes.

A lot of people coming to the organisation have serious illnesses but welfare reforms mean they are losing benefits, she says.

One client has a serious heart condition but is sleeping under a bridge. Another is staying up each night in internet cafes so she has somewhere warm to be.

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Abu-Shanab says people are often nervous to talk because they are worried they will get themselves, or others, in trouble.

Overcrowding and "couch surfing" can also cause a real strain on family relationships, she says.

"They would rather have people living in their garage than on the street," Abu-Shanab says.

"There's also this stigma. Landlords don't want a homeless person in their homes. Once you're shut out it's hard to get back in."

- East And Bays Courier

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