Homelessness a reality

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014
Larry Olliver full
CHARLOTTE CURD

New Plymouth Emergancy Shelter custodian Larry Olliver.

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Homelessness might not be a visible problem in Taranaki, but emergency accommodation providers say it is real and their services are being stretched by demand.

A major reason is the high cost of rental accommodation and the need to have about $1000 up front to cover a bond and a few weeks' rent in advance.

Calls have gone out for a homeless shelter in Waitara after two women spotted someone sleeping on the roadside this week.

Community Housing Action Taranaki chairman Brian Eriksen had two houses and a unit that catered for families with children.

They were all full and there was a waiting list.

"There's a lot of need out there. People go into situations where they can't afford the rent.

"They pay more than two-thirds of their income on rent therefore they can't feed their kids. They can't pay their bills and they get into trouble.

"It's not until they've done all that damage that they come to us."

If people didn't have references or $1000 up front, they couldn't rent a property, he said.

"That's how it is. Most of them blow their bond by not paying their rent, then they have to start again. But they have no credit rating and they don't have $1000."

His organisation took in about 24 families with 67 children, a year.

"They come to us when they're homeless or when there is overcrowding or they're sleeping in a shed. If our houses are full we work with other agencies."

In an emergency there were motor camps or lodges, Mr Eriksen said.

"They've got a roof over their heads until we can do sort something to sort it out."

Many can stay with family members for a little while, but some don't have that option, he said. "Or they burn those bridges and have nothing."

There was a network of agencies that was working well - and people in the community took strangers into their homes for a couple of nights. That happened a lot, he said.

But young people were in a slightly different situation - a lot of them just didn't want to go home.

"Youth housing has always been a problem, but it's not bricks and mortar they want. They need to sort out issues, such as why they can't go home to their own bed. It's an issue throughout Taranaki."

Young men often wouldn't go to the emergency shelter, he said.

"We've found a lot of them will choose to sleep on a mate's couch or sleep rough. It's their choice."

New Plymouth Emergency Shelter custodian Larry Olliver has had a full house since before Christmas and has been fielding two or three calls a day from agencies looking for a spare bed.

"There is a definitely a need for a bigger place."

Judging by the number of calls he has had there must be people out there with nowhere to stay or sleeping in their cars, he said.

"The prices of flats at the moment is wicked. And the guys are on the bones of their bums as it is or they wouldn't be here."

He had eight beds and men could stay for four weeks, though many stayed longer if they showed they were trying to find a place, he said.

The men were charged $10 a night, if they could afford to pay, and were supposed to supply their own food, though the New Plymouth Foodbank helped as did some local businesses.

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Homelessness was there, he said. "It's either not visible or nobody takes any notice."

Taranaki Young People's Trust centre manager Lynette West said she had people coming in about once a month, who had nowhere to go.

There needed to be a place for people to stay, just for a few nights, while the trust found somewhere for them to go and sorted things out with Winz, she said.

"I don't think, in this day and age, people have to live out there long term, but sometimes it can take a couple of days [to get people sorted]."

And for one night it could cost $55 to $70.

"And they have to have their own stuff.

"Often when people haven't got anywhere to go, they haven't got anything."

Shelter residents have nowhere else they can go

Three residents at the New Plymouth Emergency Shelter told the Taranaki Daily News their stories.

Because of a series of events AJ, 35, was only given 10 days notice that he had to leave his flat. He ended up at the New Plymouth Emergency Shelter.

"I had nowhere else to go."

He was unable to get the money needed to pay for a bond and rent in advance, he said.

"Plus I had health issues. It was stressful. I had no idea that this place existed. Some community workers directed me to here."

AJ had been at the emergency centre longer than the four week limit because he is still looking for somewhere to live.

He could have gone to stay with a mate, but his friend's flat was one bedroom and he would have had to sleep in the lounge, he said.

A lot of people at the shelter are transient and people can arrive at all hours.

"It's a bit of a struggle to adapt to that sort of way."

Another resident, 44, said it was extremely difficult to get accommodation.

"It's very difficult to get Winz to pay for bonds. Housing New Zealand don't have any houses at the moment. And you have to have references for landlords."

Where he was living was too expensive and he couldn't afford to eat, he said.

"And I had health needs. It's hard to balance."

After he had to get out of his flat, he lived in his car for a few days. "It was nasty. This place has been a godsend. I'm getting myself back on my feet because of the opportunity I have had here".

New Plymouth needs a house to cater for people who need long- term accommodation, he said.

"Especially for people with mental health or addiction issues. It is difficult to make headway when you can't get an affordable place to live. But there are good services that will help. Larry and Faye [who run the shelter] are awesome, beautiful people."

After breaking up with his girlfriend, another resident, 39, needed to find somewhere to live at short notice.

There wasn't anywhere, so he ended up living in his car for a few nights, having cold showers down at the beach.

"It wasn't ideal."

He also had "exceeded" his four weeks at the emergency shelter.

"If I had to leave after four weeks I would be back in my car. There are not many other options."

He doesn't have the $900 to $1000 needed to rent a new place, he said.

"It's really hard to come up with that sort of money without any preplanning."

He was hoping to get together with a couple of other guys at the shelter and find somewhere to live, he said.

"It's hard to do it on your own."

- Taranaki Daily News

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