On World Homelessness Day this year (October 10), Monte Cecilia Housing Trust CEO Bernie Smith called on New Zealand’s political parties to commit to a cross-party 15-25-year plan to tackle New Zealand’s growing homelessness crisis.
“A year has passed since the last World Homelessness Day, and trends that were worryingly bad then have only gotten worse under Covid, leaving thousands of New Zealanders in desperate need,” Mr Smith said.
“Despite the number of state houses rising by roughly 5000 over the past three years, the line for public housing has ballooned from 6000 in 2017 to almost 20,000 in July this year.”
Even after expanding its services, Monte Cecilia Housing Trust is struggling to keep up with the growing requests for help. It opened a new 30-unit transitional housing complex in October, 2019, but the complex was full before the end of the month, and has remained at capacity since then. This brings the number of transitional units Monte Cecilia manages to 156, on top of the 263 community homes Monte provides.
“Working on the front-line of this crisis, Monte Cecilia staff have been all too aware of just how bad it’s getting for families in our communities – Where before we’d see 10-15 calls for help in a week, we’re now seeing that in a single day,” Mr Smith said.
In the last financial year, 1100 families with 2600 children attached to them sought assistance from Monte Cecilia Housing Trust. Fifty per cent of the children were seven-years-old or younger.
“That number represents a jump of roughly a thousand more children from the previous year who are living in substandard, overcrowded housing, sometimes even garages and parked cars. That means poor health, constantly shifting schools and difficulty making friends – it’s all profoundly traumatising and they will carry that trauma through their lives. This is our next generation, and we are failing them badly,” Mr Smith said.
He is calling on New Zealand’s political parties to honour New Zealand’s commitment to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the right to adequate housing.
“Over and over again, we’ve reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring all New Zealanders, regardless of income or economic resources, have access to adequate housing to live in security, peace and dignity, yet we have consistently failed to truly meet the scale of the problem. People like to point fingers over how we got here, but Monte Cecilia was founded almost 40 years ago because there was a need then, and there hasn’t been a single year since we started where we weren’t needed.”
Mr Smith believes New Zealand’s struggle with homelessness has many causes and solving it must involve the government working with community housing providers like the Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, who have on-the-ground knowledge of their communities. Where community housing providers make a surplus, it is put back into building more homes.
“We’re facing a big challenge, but we’ve seen with our response to Covid that New Zealand is capable of world-leading things when we all pull together. Our leverage on the future is high right now, what we do or don’t do will have outsized effects for years to come, but we need a plan that is far-seeing in its scope, and backed by a united determination to see all New Zealand’s children growing up in warm, dry, safe and sustainable housing.”
“Together we can make it so that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring, but to do that we need to move our thinking away from the three-year tug-of-war that is our election cycle.”