Homeless problem 'worse than believed'

Figures from an Otago University study into the homeless is only "scratching the surface" and the situation is a lot worse than people believe.

Salvation Army captain Perry Bray said the figures give a good indication but he believed the situation was a lot worse.

The figures show that there are 330 "severely housing-deprived" people in Southland, according to census data from 2006.

His comments were a part of a presentation to the Invercargill City Council at the meeting last night, making councillors aware of the ongoing problem in Invercargill and Southland and the formation of the new Breathing Space Trust, which aims to establish a night shelter.

However, councillor Lindsay Thomas asked why agencies had not already done something about the matter and whether a night shelter would solve the problems. "So you're looking after them for three days and then out they go again?"

Bray said the shelter would help the homeless to get back on their feet and provide them with support to find permanent accommodation. Homeless was not just those roughing it on the street, it was also those cramming into houses and sleeping on mattresses at other people's houses, he told the council.

He admitted that some people did not want help, but there were others who were trapped in a cycle of homelessness, he said.

One in 120 people were homeless in New Zealand, meaning more than 400 people in Invercargill were without a fixed home, he said.

Cr Alan Dennis said he was surprised so much money could be spent looking after stray animals but not people.

"Invercargill can spend $1 million looking after cats but not addressing the human issue."

However, he was concerned that, if the council were to fund the night shelter, some ratepayers would argue that the Government already provided benefits to the homeless.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt suggested that if the group was likely to approach the council for funding it should submit under the annual plan.

The Southland Times