Worry over number of homeless in Nelson

01:23, Mar 12 2012

Concerns about an increasing number of single women facing life on the streets is prompting an investigation into the city's homeless.

The Salvation Army Nelson is organising research studying the city's homeless, to start in winter if approved. It aims to focus on single women, from which the agency has seen more demand in the past few years.

The research follows reports from social agencies including Women's Refuge and Nelson-Tasman Housing Trust that more residents are living without a permanent home.

Instead, they say, Nelson residents are staying in a car, couch-surfing or living at hostels, as home affordability gets worse and there are fewer low-income homes available in the area.

Demand has almost doubled for the trust's emergency cabins, from 43 to 81, in the past four years.

This morning, homeless man Daniel Mitchell was sitting on Bridge St in Nelson about 6am, asking for cigarettes. After living on the streets for about a month, the sickness beneficiary said he had not found a home he could afford to live in yet, but he knew there were probably other places he could get a roof over his head if he wanted.


"It's just family matters I need to sort. I can live independent on the streets, I've got my tent, I get to have all my money."

He said about 20 others made up Nelson's regular homeless population, who mostly slept around the city parks. The regular homeless living on the streets were mainly men, with some woman these days, he said.

Salvation Army Nelson community manager Major Jill Knight said more single women of all ages had been coming to the Salvation Army needing urgent accommodation in the past few years.

Homeless meant anyone living without a permanent home – "it's not just the person living under a bridge," she said.

Knight believed it was a trend reflective of society, and brought about by financial pressures and relationship break-ups.

The research also aimed to provide a clearer picture on the numbers making Nelson homeless and those staying in emergency and temporary accommodation including maraes, she said.

A part-time Salvation Army staff member, who also studied applied social sciences at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), would conduct the research. They were waiting for the proposal to be accepted by NMIT ethics committee.

Women's Refuge Nelson manager Trudie Brand said more women in the past few months had sought urgent accommodation. It cited recent cases where a women in her 50s asked to sleep in the office, while another stayed in a car, guarded by a dog, because neither had anywhere else to go.

The refuge had a crisis shelter with 15 beds, but they tried to kept it for emergency cases and it was often unsuitable for temporary accommodation, Brand said.

Nelson-Tasman Housing Trust co-ordinator Patrick Steer welcomed any research shedding light on the homeless population.

"There is, however, a need for a housing strategy in Nelson-Tasman that includes ways of routinely monitoring homelessness, not just as a one-off," Steer said.

The trust's two emergency cabins offered temporary, urgent accommodation, but the trust's main focus was improving long-term affordable homes. It had 15 homes which it rented out for 70-80 per cent of market rent.

There was a desperate need for a women's-only shelter, as demand for its emergency cabins were mainly from women desperate for a home, he said.

Nelson City Council parks team leader Lindsay Barber said the council received a handful of complaints annually about homeless residents, but most residents accepted them and left them alone. Most people assumed it was a choice, although he was unsure if that was a fact.

He had spoken with one homeless man who put up a hammock to sleep in a park, after complaints about litter and faeces left behind.

"Most people accept that all cities have a vagrant population."

There were obvious signs of people sleeping at Anzac Park, Wigzell Park and Fairfield Park, Barber said.

The Nelson Mail