Children and families are at the mercy of a broken system
OPINION: Home is where we go at the end of the day to relax. It's where we eat food, calm down from school or work and settle for the evening. It's where we feed our bodies and renew our energy for the next day.
If you don't have a warm dry home then none of that renewal happens and your body builds stress. Maybe you're living in a car or a garage, maybe you have a place to live this week but next week you don't, or maybe your home has water running down the walls.
Very soon that becomes a health issue. Your ability to be a good parent is reduced when you are constantly tired and worried. It's very well known now that young children living in highly-stressed situations don't do well either. Their brains don't develop as they should and they don't get the sleep they need.
You can imagine quickly a cycle of a crotchety, unwell child and an anxious parent and that's not a situation that anyone wants.
This article was supplied as part of Stuff's partnership with Unicef NZ.
READ MORE: Why Stuff is working with Unicef NZ
There are two groups of people that are most vulnerable to becoming homeless. The first group are families where one or both parents work and yet still can't afford a home suitable for them and their children.
The second group are parents on the lowest incomes in New Zealand, often on benefits, where availability of social housing is not adequate.
The last two governments have each had very similar approaches to social housing. This approach has been to spread the limited NZ Housing stock amongst the most vulnerable people.
Families who don't meet these criteria but still need help are given an accommodation supplement, with the idea that should put private rental housing options within their price range.
This theory has been tested now for over 10 years and simply hasn't worked to make housing affordable. Rents have risen and people still pay 60 or 70 per cent of their income on rent.
The greatest beneficiaries in social housing are arguably the landlords and that is the mark of a broken system. Children and families are at the mercy of this system.
There's been a troubling shift in language in recent years from "these are people who right now need support" to "these are people who are lazy or can't hold down a job". It's a shift from sympathy to blame.
We've gone a long way down the track of placing the most blame on people with the least. Government officials and public servants need to review their policies and work practices and make central to them respect for people who need help.
The lives of people are complex enough as it is and just having a safe, warm home is central to breaking the cycle of poverty. Homelessness or fears of becoming homeless can exacerbate every other issue in a person's life.
We need a new social housing design, one that takes control from a market-demand system. The solution could be more state houses or laws that restrict the amount which rents can go up each year.
It could be any number of things but we need to explore different tools and new approaches. There are countries that have managed this and New Zealand can as well.
I think New Zealand is in this situation because we've normalised a certain degree of poverty.
We have grown comfortable with the idea that some people won't have a safe, warm home.
The very basics of family life are being interrupted again and again and it just isn't acceptable.
- Vivien Maidaborn is Unicef New Zealand's Executive Director