Jane Patterson’s recent piece in RNZ has highlighted something we well and truly know.
Emergency Accommodation is unsafe, it’s unfit, it’s dangerous, and it is causing harm.
And though I appreciate the heart behind Meghan Woods and the Government’s messaging, that it’s better to have whanau in motels than it is in cars, overcrowded houses, or sleeping rough, the comment itself perhaps reveals the Minister hasn’t seen some of the truly deplorable conditions some of our whānau are living in.
Some of the motels and hostels I’ve been into are in such a state that I wouldn’t sleep in them myself, let alone allow my kids to live in them. I’ve spoken to a lot of rangatahi who have told me they felt safer sleeping rough, then they did in the motels that WINZ funded for them.
In this sense, the challenge National’s Spokesperson for Housing, Nicola Willis, is bringing needs to be heard and acknowledged. There is more that can be done to ensure that our people are looked after while the bigger project of building more houses is worked on
One solution is funding services with the right level of support to provide wrap around support to whānau in motels. This is being done to an extent, but not always to the extent that is needed to support people, and not universally. I know of service providers that have had to think hard about whether they would provide wrap around services to motels because they weren’t going to be funded at the level needed to keep people safe and do a good job.
Another thing we can be doing is ensuring that any hotel or motel that the Government is basically subsidizing is up to a liveable standard, and meets a certain health and safety criteria. I’ve been into motels and hostels that I wouldn’t live in, let alone allow a child to spend a night in due to mould, poor insulation, and a clearly unsafe environment. I also know of motels that we as service providers have just straight up told staff it’s unsafe to enter, let alone put our people in them.
The piece around renter’s rights is also vital. I know rangatahi who have been safely sleeping on the couch with whanau, only to be forced into emergency motels when the landlord has found out and threatened eviction. The overcrowding wasn’t ideal, but it was safer than the alternative. I also know from personal experience that landlords are attempting to limit the capacity of homes by arbitrarily restricting the amount of people that can live in a home. In a housing crisis, we need to ensure that all houses are able to be used to their fullest potential. If whānau are willing to live together, we should be supporting this to happen without the threat of eviction hanging over their heads.
But, alongside all of this, we need to be funding the solutions. Homelessness isn’t going away any time soon. Instead of pouring money into motels, which in the end is just sustaining the problem, let’s fund solutions. Manaaki Rangatahi, a collective I myself am a part of alongside my mahi with the Lifewise Youth Housing Service, have proposed a 24/7, Immediate Accommodation, wraparound support model, for rangatahi in housing crisis. Our friends at Vision west have also piloted a similar model which is working well, they also have their my whare project waiting to go, which is an innovative community lead solution and response to youth homelessness.
We have answers for these challenges within our communities, we are just lacking the resources needed to make these things happen for our people.
If you’d like to help, there is a couple of things you can do. First, if we’re going to see real, decisive action on this, we need the political will behind us. If you would be willing to write to your local MP, or directly to the minister of Housing, Megan Woods, expressing your concern that our people are living in such conditions, that will go a long way.
Secondly, Manaaki Rangatahi have a petition currently running calling on the government to act decisively to end youth homelessness. You can find the petition here please consider signing and sharing it with your friends.
We can end homelessness in Aotearoa, but we can’t do it alone. This injustice will only end once enough of us demand Justice. Lend your voice to ours, and let’s change Aotearoa for the better.
A.J. Hendry is a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also a steering group member of Manaaki Rangatahi, a collective working to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.