SUBMISSION TO THE INQUIRY INTO HOMELESSNESS
26th August, 2016.
Thank you for your efforts in opening the Inquiry into Homelessness. I regret that I was not able to stay and make a submission to you directly at Te Puea Marae last Monday. I had to attend a presentation by Lifewise on their Housing First initiative in the Central City.
I am a member of the CBD Residents Advisory Group and one of their representatives on the Auckland Council Central City Advisory Board. I have always had a strong sense of social compassion and concern and worked for four years for the Salvation Army as a Support Worker in their Supportive Accommodation at Epsom Lodge. The 90 residents there taught me more about the realities and causes, and potential cures, for homelessness, among the other areas of social dysfunction such as addiction, mental health, and criminal justice issues that they were caught up in, than I had learned in my previous 65 years. I am extremely grateful to them. For someone like myself brought up with 2 committed for life caring parents in a strong Christian faith with the support of a caring church it is difficult to understand the realities of life for so many New Zealanders without personal experience. During my 4 years with the Salvation Army I dealt in some depth with close to 200 people as they moved through, some to success, and some to further failure.
I have been an inner city apartment resident for most of my 46 years in Auckland and still am. My current concern is primarily with the inner city homeless. These numbered over 200 at the last count and are mainly singles rather than families.
I believe it is absolutely reprehensible and unacceptable that we leave people sleeping on the streets, curled up in shop fronts and down back alleys, especially in winter, without offering an alternative.
I put a proposal to Auckland Council on the 30th July to use the mainly empty Civic Building in Aotea Square for a short term provision of somewhere warm, dry, and safe for the winter. They refused. There is in fact no reason why it could not have been done, all the issues they raised had been recognised, thought through, and solutions figured. It would not have been perfect but it would have been much better than the streets. It would have allowed us to have better engagement with the Central City rough sleepers and I am sure would have provided a better pathway into more permanent solutions for some.
As with any social issue there needs to be short, medium, and long term initiatives if we are serious about overcoming the issues of social dysfunction, including homelessness.
There is an urgent need for warm, safe, and dry short term accommodation for those who want and need it. The above is one solution that would have worked. None of us who work or have worked in this field want a repetition of the old Night Shelter in Airedale Street which people used and abused in the long term.Tonight, and it is cold and windy in Auckland, there will still be over 200 people sleeping on the streets.
The James Liston Hostel is being transformed into what I believe is a model as good as it can get. People in need will be received for up to 12 weeks while competent staff get to know them and assess their needs and get what help is needed. They will then be moved on to permanent solutions via the Lifewise Housing First programme or other housing providers with the level of ongoing support which is appropriate for each person.
The objective is to end inner city homelessness within 2 years. The model can be copied in other centres. James Liston needs a massive upgrading to be fit for purpose and it is the central city business community who have just stepped up this week with a $2 million contribution to the upgrade of the hostel.
Government policies are major contributors to the issue of homelessness. In this case they have refused to help and it is the business community who are coming to the party. There is still more funding needed.
It was interesting to hear one of the submissions last Monday by a passionate supporter of developing a kibbutz model for long term involvement, support, and development for people with social issues. From the mid 1960’s to mid 1980’s I studied in some depth the Communes of China, the Collectives of Russia, and the Kibbutz of Israel visiting all 3 models. The Communes and Collectives failed because they were imposed by government. The kibbutz flourished because people were united in a common cause. I take a tour group to Israel approximately every 2 years and always stay at a kibbutz for part of the time and keep up with the changes in that model. My last stay on a kibbutz in Israel was last October. While the operating model has changed over the decades it still involves the active participation of all in the community, for the benefit of all.
I have been advocating for the last 6 years that the biggest lack in our treatment of social issues is mentored communities in the country with enough land for orchard, vegetable gardens, hens, and other forms of farming drawing on the best facets of Kibbutz and marae life. Residents would need to sign an agreement to work at least 10-15 hours per week in the community (in addition to being drug and physical and verbal violence free) at a level any particular person is capable of. During this period their social needs would be attended to while receiving basic tuition in cooking, carpentry, horticulture, faming, and other life skills while being taught to read and write if necessary. It absolutely appalled me at Epsom Lodge to find the number of residents who had been around the New Zealand education system for 10 years or more and were functionally illiterate. Fortunately we were able to arrange competent voluntary tutors to help them. I have seen the therapeutic benefits of people being involved in constructive activity and believe this would help many and give them a reason to get involved in and excited about life. The objective would be to get the community self sufficient, then profitable, with all residents participating in the profit, and then to move the model on to other areas. It is actually very easy to organise for someone with experience in this area – all it needs is money and competent caring people to run it.
LONG TERM We will however never resolve these issues until we develop the honesty, integrity, and courage to understand and accept the underlying causes of social dysfunction. If we do not understand the problem fully, and are not prepared to face up to the real issues, we cannot fix the problem.
The biggest single factor (and not the only one) in the problems of life for everyone I have dealt with is the dysfunctional, and in many cases non existent nature of their family background. Many of the submissions I listened to on Monday at Te Puea reiterated these issues. Sitting with someone at 2am (when I was doing the midnight to 8am shift) listening to their earliest memories of violence, drunkenness, and abuse was saddening in the extreme. For many there was no single positive memory from their past. No one has encouraged them to read or go to school, helped them with their homework, taken them to the zoo or museum, or even the beach.
The sociological evidence is overwhelming that children brought up with their biological parents in nurturing caring and positive role modelling environments do better in life. See the University of Otago Longitudinal Multi Disciplinary study for one such quality evidential study. It is also useful to understand that the Makers handbook (The Bible) gives us all the instruction we need for a quality life individually and a flourishing society.
If every man and every woman chose their partner carefully, committed to each other for life, and brought up children in that nurturing caring and positive role modelling environment at least 60% of our social problems would be resolved, crime would decrease massively, cost of government would reduce by around $10 billion a year with consequent real tax reductions and we would have a much better society!
It is long past time we started to promote the aspirational ideal, keeping in mind that we will never achieve 100% success, but can certainly get far closer to the ideal than we are at present.
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