Worries, tough times for many in city's west

'It's really hard to get good housing'

Last updated 10:12 21/08/2014
hamilton west
Nick Reed/Fairfax NZ
STRUGGLE STREET: The numbers of those in need of social assistance has increased in Hamilton during the past three years, some community leaders say. 

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For several hours each weekday a slow-moving narrative is played out on the manicured lawns of Garden Place.

It's here in the heart of Hamilton that office workers gather during their lunch break to eat, to socialise, and to stare longingly into their smartphones.

But the workers of Hamilton share their space with another crowd: the have-nots.Men and women who, through circumstance or choice, drift through the day unencumbered by the demands or dreams of the aspiring working class.

Hamilton Christian Night Shelter manager Peter Humphreys has seen the ranks of Hamilton's homeless steadily grow over the past three years, fuelled, in part, by a lack of budget accommodation in the city.

The shelter has space for 28 men each night and in July experienced their busiest month on record.

''It certainly feels like over the past three years the numbers of people who have very little has increased a lot,'' Humphreys said.''It's really hard to get good housing when you don't have much of an income and I think state housing and social accommodation has to be massively improved by the next Government.''

Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe said there were ''pockets of people'' in Hamilton West who were finding times tough, but the overall outlook was improving. The economy was at the forefront of voters' minds but Macindoe said poverty was an enduring concern.

''I would strongly take issue with the suggestion homelessness or street begging was something new because it isn't. I would be concerned if anybody was required to be living that way but we have a welfare system and nobody needs to be living on the proceeds of street begging.''

Recent boundary changes have altered the shape of the Hamilton West electorate and seen it lose the rural lifestyle blocks in Te Kowhai, Lake Rotokauri and Whatawhata.The seat now takes in the Rototuna area on the east side of the Waikato River, north of Borman Road.

Macindoe said the boundary changes ''slightly favoured'' National but he was preparing for a tight tussle with Labour Hamilton West candidate Sue Moroney.

''I'm mindful of how much work that I have to do always to hold this seat. While I'm optimistic I can hold it, I'm in no way complacent.''

Moroney said many Hamilton West residents had not fared well during the past three years with the city suffering a disproportionate number of job losses.

''At a time when the dairy industry was enjoying record high payouts there have been people here who have gone through real tough times,'' Moroney said.

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She was critical of the Government for not showing enough leadership around regional economic development and for the restructure of AgResearch which saw up to 180 jobs relocated from its Ruakura campus.

''I think overall there has been a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots and people just want a fair go,'' Moroney said.Hamilton West resident Murray McChesney, 67, has been an orderly at Waikato Hospital for the past 20 years.

He earns $17.60 an hour, a modest amount for a man living in the shadow of retirement.McChesney described himself as an undecided voter but believed John Key's National Government has not done enough to improve the fortunes of low-income families.

''There are a lot of families out there that don't get any Government assistance or allowance, who pay their own way and it's really hard to make ends meet,'' McChesney said. ''Both my wife and myself are on the super but if I wasn't working we'd be eating into our savings.''

Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Sandy Turner said business confidence was up among Hamilton retailers but more could be done to support business owners.One bugbear was the fact goods purchased from overseas websites did not attract GST.

''Overall businesses are feeling better but it's still not at the level where people feel comfortable. That's reflected in businesses negotiating short term leases with landlords.''

Former Labour MP Martin Gallagher said Macindoe and Moroney were regarded as ''heavy hitters'' within their parties and their respective party rankings would see them both returned to parliament.

''What will be fascinating is to what degree the party vote in Hamilton West reflects the nationwide party vote. That will tell us whether Hamilton West remains a bellwether seat.'' 

- Waikato Times

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