Home Sweet Home

Written By: - Date published: 11:52 am, November 4th, 2017 - 23 comments
Categories: class war, housing, infrastructure, poverty, quality of life, Social issues, tenants' rights - Tags: , ,

My New Zealand used to be one of innocent pride, where we helped each other out and we gave a damn about others. Now I am disillusioned and angry. I feel disgust and anger that we have allowed poverty and homelessness to occur in our communities. I am disgusted and angry that our Government (no matter which political persuasion) has been allowed to undermine our safety net to the point that there is no safety net for some of our most vulnerable citizens. And I am angry that instead of facing this problem, we have allowed a small portion of our society to promote a discourse of blame and hate. It is time that we take back our communities and work together to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are shown the kindness, care and support that they need. We can no longer turn a blind eye, and we can no longer sit back and pretend this is not our problem.

Using the official definition of homelessness there were over 41,000 homeless people (pdf) in New Zealand back in 2013. I meet homeless people every single day and I want to highlight some underlying factors to help explain how difficult it is being homeless in New Zealand.

The people I meet are homeless for a variety of reasons. Some of the typical scenarios include illness impacting on people’s ability to work resulting rent arrears and eviction. Some are women escaping violence. Some have experienced a breakdown in other relationships, or are responding to changing family situations. By the time I get to meet these families there’s usually a lot has already gone on for them. Some having amassed debt (due to poverty related factors as well as commonly not receiving proper benefit entitlements) and some, but not all, have poor tenancy records. Once this happens these people, under the current system, don’t really stand a chance.

I have noticed that more and more rental properties are being managed by agencies; agencies who in my opinion, find it easier to say no to homeless mothers and children begging for a roof over their heads. Discrimination is rife, with some sharing stories of landlords commenting on their family size, the gender of their children, their brown faces, their tattoos, their work status (or lack thereof)…. The truth of the matter is that landlords can afford to be fussy. They can afford to deny decent people and their children the chance of a home because there’s plenty of potential tenants (who are much harder to stereotype) banging on their doors. In part, this discrimination is a direct result of the negative discourse about beneficiaries that both Government and media have propagated over the last 25 years or so. The impact of poverty on people’s credit and tenancy records is also the manifestation of over thirty years of miserly and punitive welfare policy. Essentially we are now visibly reaping what was sown from the early 1990’s. Stereotypical and discriminatory thinking even affects some in the supposed caring professions. I often have to challenge these beliefs among my peers and colleagues, and frankly it is tiresome and frustrating that some in the ‘helping’ professions are complicit in propagating such a negative discourse.

Homelessness disrupts children’s lives considerably. It can mean several changes of school; disrupted education and social relationships; not having their own space; having stressed parent/s who have no energy; not having friends home to play and being embarrassed in front of their friends, and it often means losing their worldly possessions and having no toys. Sometimes the end result is unnecessary stress and anxiety and behavioural problems that are then judged and treated harshly.

For their parents, homelessness also causes high levels of stress, depression and a sense of hopelessness about the future. It means house hunting is a full-time job. It means having to tell stranger after stranger why they are in the situation they’re in – it means being judged and then being knocked back time and time again. Homelessness prevents these families having a sense of belonging in their communities. Homelessness can mean having to live in situations and rely on people who may use and abuse them. These families are vulnerable and often see no light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.

With things so difficult for the homeless on the private rental market, one would think that these families would easily access state housing. Unfortunately this is not the case for the people I meet. It seems the previous Government didn’t want to spend money on empty houses. Let’s hope the new Government will step up. Internet searches bring up multiple articles about Government selling supposed surplus state houses – even as recently as a month ago. There are also multiple accounts of empty state houses despite desperate families needing homes. The families I work with just want a house. They’ll take anything. Anywhere. As long as they have a roof over their heads. Of course from a practical point of view, this level of desperation is likely to cause problems later on, as families find themselves having to pay small fortunes on buses or travel trying to get their children to schools – money that will likely come from already inadequate food budgets or from money earmarked for rent These type of situations are often judged harshly by WINZ case managers, who will suggest unreasonable solutions, that will have further negative impacts on these families.

Homelessness has many faces. It is not just the stereotypical older male alcoholic sleeping on park benches in his unkempt clothes or the crazy bag lady carting her worldly possessions around. Those stereotypical images lay blame. Those images mean we don’t have to care because it’s “just the way it is”, or it’s their fault – it’s nothing to do with us.

23 comments on “Home Sweet Home”

  1. cleangreen 1

    Very true this is.

    “Egelitarianism” was the word of the 1950’s 60′ and 70’s util 1984 then our life changed as I grew older then.

    It was common to see hitch hickers on the roads and ofrten we would pick up folks or be picked up whe we were hitch hickig ourselves.

    Then you could leave a home or car unlocked but ever could you do it today.

    • timeforacupoftea 1.1

      “cleangreen said –

      I presume you are talking North Island.
      Don’t tell anyone but all this still happens around South Otago area’s.
      Students often get picked up on the Northern Motorway and Southern Motorways plenty of tourist sit with signs seeking rides to Queenstown etc between Dunedin City and Mosgiel.
      Plenty of homes and cars left unlocked day and night especially in the farming areas.

      • mary_a 1.1.1

        @ (1.1) timeforacupoftea … recently moved permanently to Cromwell from a lifetime living in Auckland. One of the reasons for the move, apart from the awesome scenery and fresh mountain air, was the friendliness, caring, kindness and most of all trust shown in this spiritually generous community, where we feel safe.

        For us two old codgers (in our early 70s), setting down roots in Cromwell was like stepping back in time, to the Auckland of our youth in the ’50’s & ’60’s. A place where people matter and people care.

        I’m still coming to terms with the fact that most of the locals here are not bothered about leaving their vehicles and homes unlocked as you mentioned! As our neighbours told us, we don’t have to worry about that sort of thing around here, because we don’t turn on our own and we always look out for one another. Good points to remember. Very sad indeed though that such kindness and generosity of spirit is so sadly lacking in this day and age particularly in the cities, leading to unnecessary suffering, where far too many Kiwi families are being allowed to fall through the cracks, through lack of adequate support. A situation where negligence of their plight has made them all but invisible to society.

        This is the community’s problem, something we should all share, help and become part of before it’s too late for vulnerable Kiwis.

  2. Incognito 2

    Excellent post!

    Saying that it is not our problem is our problem and the more we say it, the bigger the problem. This selfish & individualistic behaviour is a social issue by definition and entirely shaped by human nature and vice versa.

  3. Antoine 3

    Preach it!

    A.

  4. Siobhan 4

    “The human right to adequate housing is binding legal obligation of the State of NewZealand. This means the State of New Zealand has agreed to ensure that the right
    to adequate housing is progressively realised in New Zealand. It is an “international obligation” that must be performed in New Zealand.”.(..my bolds.)

    https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/1214/2681/4255/Right_to_Housing_Flyer_FINAL__2.pdf

    we better rattle our daggs because we signed this in 1948..’progressively’ should be ‘realised’ by now…

  5. greywarshark 5

    Very well put, coming from someone who has experienced the situation it is very telling. And I think there is a charity model strong in NZ where you administer things to the peeps who are regarded as lesser and face a template prejudice (this is how ‘these’ people are etc.).

    It used to be that people were encouraged to remember that there but for the grace of God go I. And that things can go bad for anybody. But now when this should be understood plainly and compassion shown, people still accept the propaganda that these people don’t deserve to have a life.

    It is heart wrenching to see the hardening of hearts, the closing of ranks, the comfortable cliques with similar beliefs and understandings, the desire to withhold opportunities and living standards from others. Everyone has watched the history of NZ – business deteriorate, stories about redundancies, low wages, high rents, uncertain hours etc. Yet we remain ignorant of it all, determinedly ignoring it, pushing it away, waiting for some cargo cult from the USA or Australia to deliver some policies that will work and improve the situation.

    And in the meantime so many people just go on voting for whoever, doing the same old, placing hope in some past group that has no answers that help people regain their own strength and self-determination but within a supportive community. Many don’t seem to have the vitality and curiosity to study what can be done to improve things right now, and what new approaches are needed to direct us onto another path so we can manage not to have vast pockets of unfortunate people being put through the mill so others can have more and swan around buying their designer this, and their trendy that.

    But TS is a place where people with ideas can put them forward. Out of the raw material put here we may be able to gather the resources and materials to sew and hammer a new fabric that is fit for purpose in the precarious 21st century.
    Let’s do it!

    I’m thinking about co-operative living and co-housing. What are you thinking about and doing studies about and discussing about and perhaps applying your knowledge to? Whoever is reading this is – it would be good to hear what you are doing, and not just hear from so many sitting judging the words and the world as they pass by.

  6. gsays 6

    Thanks korero, what you have written is very uncomfortable to read.

    The Aotearoa of the past resonates with me. We knew and were often a big part of our neighbours lives (veges, eggs, child care, a sympathetic ear).

    A big problem, as you highlight, is this notion of a property portfolio, tax breaks, and being a landlord as a way to get ahead.
    Perhaps a big rejigging of the rules around this could help.

    Thanks again for your heartfelt words.

  7. weka 7

    Very good KP.

    Would be interested to know your opinion on something. If the new govt transformed WINZ, took away sanctioned, enabled full access to entitlements, and change the culture from a punitive one (ie. best case scenario under Labour/Green hand), how much of the poverty issues too you see being resolved? Obviously that’s not going to fix housing but I want to get a general sense of how people seeing the WINZ system working if it was functional but without major legislation change (apart from rolling back the Bennett stuff).

  8. Korero Pono 8

    Weka, to answer your question, I will deviate slightly from the main gist of my post. The Government needs to take a serious look at Section 70A of the Social Security Act, which does impact on a number of families that I have worked with over the years. This is important to the homeless issue because of the impact it has on mainly women and their children. These families are forced into debt because they cannot afford essential living costs, the loss of $28 is disastrous for the women and children affected. The debt cycle then creates negative credit history and means that rental agents and even private landlords base decisions on this history, thus locking many out of the private housing market. To add to the punitive section 70A, I just discovered that for the purpose of calculating Temporary Additional Support, the system does not deduct the $28 (or more in some cases) from the client’s income – even though technically they don’t receive this money. This situation creates a double punishment to those unlucky enough to be in that situation. (Over 14,000 beneficiaries are affected by section 70A – see https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/98519361/weve-inherited-a-disaster-official-figures-show-45000-home-shortfall-in-auckland). What’s more, the last time I looked, liable parents on benefits usually don’t pay $28 in child support payments – so the $28 paid by sole parents who don’t name the liable parent, is probably disproportionate to the actual child support lost by the state. There is something incredibly wrong with how everything within the system is stacked against those with the greatest need. In my line of work, I see this time and time again – I am often left wondering how the fuck I am going to find resources or extra money for these families to survive on. To be honest I don’t have much faith in Labour to ‘fix’ anything…I am taking a strictly will believe it when I see it stance on that one. I have been around and working within (and against) the system for too long to not remember how bad things have been under both Labour and National. We need to, absolutely must challenge the negative discourse surrounding welfare and the beneficiary class (the under class) if you will…as greywarshark states above ” but for the grace of God go I”, most of us are only one or two pay days away from being in that position ourselves.

    • weka 8.1

      When did Section 70A come into force? (google isn’t helping).

      I had been reasonably hopeful about the Greens doing some good stuff to remove sanctions and change the culture at WINZ, but just reread the C/S agreement and realised that they’re probably not going to be leading on that. The agreement just says that both Labour and the Greens agree it should happen, but as Labour hold the Ministry I’m expecting that it will be Labour’s job to organise, and like you, based on history and current reading of Labour policy and position, I’m in a wait to see what they do frame now. I think some things will change for the better, but Labour need to re-earn our trust and I’m not convinced yet that they will do what is necessary. I also don’t know that they are talking to the people most affected well enough, which is critical

      • Karen 8.1.1

        You may find this informative re section 70a as it also gives the figures for the numbers of beneficiaries affected.
        https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/official-information-responses/2016/november/20161103-section-70a-deduction-from-benefit-va15550088.pdf

        Labour should have addressed this when last in power so I understand that there lack of faith that they will do it this time. There are a couple of things that give me hope, however. First, I know the Greens will push for it and I also know that Carmel Sepuloni will be supportive. The second is that this penalty pushes children into a state of severe poverty and because Jacinda has taken on the portfolio of reducing child poverty I cannot see how she personally will be able to justify not removing it.

        • weka 8.1.1.1

          thanks Karen, I saw that but wasn’t sure if the figures indicated the start date or not.

          I’m wondering if WINZ were using more discretion back in the day? I don’t remember it being talked about so much, but I’m guessing the pressures are even more than they used to be (financial and system).

          • Karen 8.1.1.1.1

            Most of the anti beneficiary/welfare dependence rhetoric started in the early 1990s after the benefit cuts. It was a concentrated propaganda campaign throughout all media outlets, but particularly talk-back radio. The welfare dependancy message was relentless but my feeling is that WINZ workers at that time were not as punitive as they now are.

            The 1991 benefit cuts didn’t come out of a vacuum – the Muldoon government did quite a lot of beneficiary bashing – in particular there was a lot of anti DPB rhetoric. It was blamed for an increase in marriage breakups and promiscuity. Women who didn’t have a paternity established only qualified for an Emergency Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and in 1977 this began to be paid at $16 a week lower so this was the start of the penalty.

            In 1985 Labour started paying the EMA at the same rate as the DPB and there was a much better attitude to beneficiaries for a while. This is also the time when the racism within government departments began to be addressed – although, of course, Māori were at the same time being severely disadvantaged by Rogernomics.

            This is a paper that explains some of the history:
            https://www.victoria.ac.nz/law/research/publications/vuwlr/prev-issues/vol-36-1/hughes.pdf

  9. David Mac 9

    The shortage of rental properties has made it increasingly difficult for anyone that presents as anything other than an immediately evident superb tenant. For years the total of rental homes advertised on Trademe in the Far North hovered around 100. For 2 years that figure has been tumbling, today there are 33.

    Owner landlords and property managers alike, with so many strong applicants…They don’t need to take a chance on anything less than a glowing credit history, superb previous tenancy references, stable employment history, they don’t have to anticipate how well behaved a dog may be, no dogs allowed. Why subject the house to the wear and tear of 5 people when a single person is keen to move in?

    As a result, anyone that is less than the perfect cookie cutter potential tenant struggles. They’re part of a growing group.

  10. Karen 10

    Excellent post.
    I am absolutely sure that 2013 figure of 41,000 is much, much higher now and it isn’t just a big city problem any more. The reasons for the crisis are multiple but the sell off of state houses has been a major factor. The Nat. government should have been building state houses to cope with population growth, not selling them off. As well as selling 3000 state houses, many more have been boarded up and left to rot because of so-called ‘P’ contamination based on shonky testing and bad science.

    Even getting onto a state house waiting list has been made almost impossible because WINZ is now the gatekeeper and many people are too scared to tell them of their living conditions in case their kids get taken off them. Housing NZ needs to reopen publicly accessible offices and start taking responsibility for making sure decent housing is provided.

    Personally, I’d like to see a massive state house building programme as it is the only way to make sure everybody can afford somewhere decent to live. Accommodation supplement just subsidises landlords – better that the state provides housing direct.

    • Carolyn_nth 10.1

      Agree with the need for a massive sate housing build.

      Excellent post. I was conscious when reading it, that I am one of the more privileged renters – middle class, reasonable income, single, no pets. And that is while still feeling pretty insecure in the current renting context.

      And having moved a couple of times in recent years, I know what the quality of private rentals is like, and also know how over-priced everything is, and how much landlords and estate agents hold all the power.

      More than anything, the laws and regulations need to change, to give more power to the least well off renters.

      The state would be better spending money on supporting those deemed unattractive to landlords, rather than on housing allowances that go straight into ungrateful landlords banks.

      Support for those with mental health issues; support for solo mothers in various ways e.g. access to education/training, affordable child care, adequate benefits, developing supportive communities for those who have had to move too often, etc.

  11. Angel Fish 11

    We need to identify and address the cause of this problem and just mitigate the symptoms.

  12. greywarshark 12

    Looking at past post from one Corie Haddock.
    This was one from last year that says it for others this year just as well. I have just put some paras in for better effect.

    Guest post: Corie Haddock on the homeless crisis

    keith ross 5
    18 June 2016 at 11:13 am

    the other elephant in the room is the sanctions that are put on people who are unemployed by the welfare dept(not sure what the name of this dept is now).
    The difficulty of obtaining the dole and maintaining the income from this is very challenging for many people.

    The govt needs to relax the ridiculous rules like going to write your own cv courses over and over and miss an appointment ,your done,look the wrong way at a worker at the office, your done, for example. Having to report in multiple times which costs you money for no reason but to make life difficult for you.

    If the access to this was put back to where it was ten years ago then that would help a lot of people. Those that just drop off the roles but do not have a job go somewhere, the street in many cases.Stop punishing the most vulnerable in our society. The money that they get (tiny as it is) is totally spent and goes back into the community supporting other small businesses and the economy in general. by the time their income is spent and taxed multiple times the govt gets back a fair portion of this money in the end anyway. It is cheaper to pay them than not to .

    (18/6/2016 – Corie Haddock worked at the coal face of homelessness in Auckland’s CBD for almost a decade, finishing in March this year. In that time he developed and ran person centred, innovative services that focused on ending homelessness one person at a time. He was also Labour’s candidate in the Helensville electorate in 2014. Currently he is the co-chair of the New Zealand Coalition to End Homelessness, a national body that works at all leaves (levels?)to address the issue of homelessness. Corie is now self employed working on innovations that can address homelessness at a community level.)

  13. Patricia 13

    Karen / Weka ; many of the single mums know very well who the fathers are but they have either left the relationship or refuse to sign the birth certificate.
    Once mothers have named the fathers it should be compulsory for them to undergo an DNA test. Unfortunately the expense of DNA testing is beyond the budget of most women so would it not be better for MSD / IRD to cover that cost ?
    Losing $28 weekly is supposed to punish / shame the mother but we all know that the whole family suffers.

    • Karen 13.1

      Often the mothers are too frightened to name the father – it isn’t just a case of not being able to prove it.

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