Auckland ex-prisoners homeless in Wellington - more on way

The Auckland housing crisis has displaced homeless ex-prisoners from the supercity, who are now shifting to Wellington.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX/NZ

The Auckland housing crisis has displaced homeless ex-prisoners from the supercity, who are now shifting to Wellington.

Homeless, "high risk" offenders, including gang members, released from prison in Auckland are shifting to Wellington en masse, police warn.

Police are concerned the Auckland housing crisis and funding cuts have forced the migration south and increasing homelessness in the capital.

Sergeant Matthew McKenzie of Wellington police, warned a meeting of Wellington CBD representatives this week that prisoners released from Auckland were moving to Wellington.

A homeless man in Auckland's CBD. The housing crisis is forcing people to look for accommodation in Wellington but they ...
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

A homeless man in Auckland's CBD. The housing crisis is forcing people to look for accommodation in Wellington but they are not finding any.

Last month nine made their way from Auckland and police expected within the next two weeks, 15 more with "high needs"  would arrive in the capital.

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It is understood the majority of new arrivals will be gang members.

"Wellington CBD cannot support 50 to 100 more homeless people. These are high risk individuals who have drug and alcohol problems. This is something of real concern and we want to front-foot that," McKenzie said.

Information was being fed to police that a shortage of housing and funding cuts for outreach  programmes were adding to the homeless problem in Auckland, McKenzie said,

"They [homeless] see Wellington as an affluent city and perceive accommodation to be freely available."

Wellington City Council community services and emergency welfare manager Jenny Rains said many homeless people in Wellington were ex-prisoners.

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"The night shelter at the moment has a lot of ex-prisoners who are struggling," she said.

In the short-term there was help at the night shelter and in the long-term there were outreach teams trying to co-ordinate with them, she said.

"It's not as easy as you might think."

Wellington City Councillor Paul Eagle, who chairs a city safety committee, said finding accommodation for gang members was important because without a roof over their head, it would spell trouble.

Council had a strategy to help prisoners better integrate into society and had worked with police and corrections to house ex-prisoners and gang members in the past.

Corrections acting lower north operations director Coralea Easther, said suitable accommodation and supporting offenders to make positive changes in their lives and reduce their chance of reoffending was important.

Some offenders needed help to find stable accommodation, which may also form part of an offender's release conditions.

Community Corrections worked with organisations, such as Housing New Zealand, New Zealand Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society, the Salvation Army and other social service agencies, when reviewing an offender's housing options.

Probation officers had close links with accommodation providers, other stakeholders and local community groups, and worked to ensure the basic needs of the offenders were provided wherever possible, she said.

In 2013 Corrections introduced the Out of Gate service, designed to support short-serving prisoners before and immediately after they leave prison when they are trying to readjust to life on the outside and are most at risk of reoffending.

A Wellington City Council report on beggars is expected to be brought to council in April to consider actions and solutions. So far it has found that although begging and homelessness crossed over, the majority of those begging were not homeless.

A member of the team compiling the data told the CBD meeting, the prisoner situation was a further issue, which went beyond what Wellington could deal with – adding another "bag of challenging issues".

An Auckland  homeless report, released by the Salvation Army in November, stated one of the key causes of homelessness in the super-city was exclusion from the rental market.

The report blamed a lack of supply and said because landlords had so much choice in who they rented their houses to, a level of discrimination was more likely.

The report recommended that rising rents in the city be addressed as well as increasing the supply of affordable housing.

It also said it was possible that some of the people interviewed were on a bail release from Epsom Lodge or other places, which would account for a response that identified prison as the impending accommodation.

The report said there would be an incentive for former prisoners to seek accommodation as a continuation of bail, or a non-prison sentence could be reliant on the person providing evidence to the court they had stable accommodation.

 - Stuff

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