Homelessness has 'been there for a very long time': Prime Minister John Key video

Kevin Stent/Fairfax NZ

Prime Minister John Key talks about the homeless at his weekly media briefing.

Welfare agencies know of at least 400 cases of people who call themselves homeless  Prime Minister John Key has revealed - but says there is nothing new about people living in cars and garages.

Key sparked a debate about homelessness on Monday after advising those who were living in cars and garages to seek help form Work and Income New Zealand.

He stood by his comments later and said Winz could help by putting people in touch with Housing New Zealand.

Ministry of Social Development, who run Work and Income, say help is available to those in need.
Rory O'Sullivan

Ministry of Social Development, who run Work and Income, say help is available to those in need.

"I don't think the issue of someone living in a homeless situation is new - it's been there for a very long period of time. But we are there to provide support as best we can. All I can say to people if somebody is homeless they should go see Winz."

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Key revealed there were 428 people who identified themselves as homeless in the year to March 2016 but admitted "the data is not perfect".

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Some people did not advise Winz of their status and "a lot of what we see is anecdotal".

The Government was working with shelters and agencies like the Salvation Army and had also put $41 million extra into supplementary housing assistance for those needing urgent help,  Key said.

Key's comments come after social housing groups and community workers have called on the government to increase their supply of affordable housing.

Opposition leader Andrew Little says the priority should not be assessing eligibility of Housing NZ tenants to address ...
DAVID WHITE / FAIRFAX NZ

Opposition leader Andrew Little says the priority should not be assessing eligibility of Housing NZ tenants to address supply issues.

There have been reports families in Auckland have been forced to rent garages and shipping containers, with the Salvation Army estimating one in ten Auckland garages is used as a home. Social agencies say the number of families living out of their cars has increased.

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"Anyone with a current emergency housing need should get in touch with Work and Income," the Ministry of Social Development spokesperson said.

"While we recognise that the best way to prevent the need for emergency housing is to support people into sustainable private rentals or social housing, help is available for people in immediate need.

"We can help with rent arrears, with referral to emergency housing providers, and with recoverable payments for temporary accommodation."  

Key said on Monday that families in "dire" situations should go and see Work and Income - comments which received criticism from Labour that he was "out of touch" with these New Zealanders in hardship.

"If they're sleeping in a car, my very strong advice is to go and see Work and Income and we'll see what we can do," Key said.

"People often don't understand what's available to them. My experience with Work and Income is they do their very best to support people in those situations, especially when children are involved."

'IMPRACTICAL' ADVICE

But Labour leader Andrew Little has called that advice "impractical".

A lot of these families have already tried to get support and have been denied, Little said, which is why a lot of social agencies are at their "wits' end". 

"The truth is that there aren't a lot of houses around for these people to go into," he said. 

"It's the lack of housing for people, as opposed to just go to the WINZ office and somehow they'll wave a magic wand."

Labour had been campaigning for years for more social housing, not just private housing, he said.

The Government had allocated $41million over four years to emergency housing.

"Auckland is a growing city and providing emergency support, or providing that low cost accommodation, has always been very difficult because of the structure of Housing New Zealand where people move into a home and fundamentally in many cases don't move out," Key said.

TIME LIMITS FOR RENTALS?

Key talked about putting "controversial" time limits on Housing New Zealand rentals to help supply.

"At least at some point we go and have a look and see whether it would be better that the family moved on because they could afford to do that, or their circumstances changed."

There were a "range of reasons" people lived out of cars or under bridges, Key told RNZ, but it wasn't acceptable for Kiwis to be living in those conditions.

"The emergency housing, as I understand, there's a couple of things: some very very quick housing, moving people into a motel. There's some more shorter term solutions."

But longer term the Government wanted to get more social housing providers in the market.

Little said the priority was not assessing eligibility of current Housing NZ tenants, it was about getting vulnerable families into houses.

* This story is now closed for comments.

 - Stuff

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