According to a report in RNZ there are now 4512 children living in motels – a number which has increased from nearly 280 children over the past three months.
When Lockdown started Lifewise youth housing service (the service I work within), worked with MSD, HUD and a local hostel in Auckland Central, to set up an Immediate Accommodation space for young people. This is a space that provides a level of wrap around support for young people expierencing homelessness and thus living in emergency accommodation.
During our time in this space, we’ve seen several rangatahi with kids come through the hostel. Some of these children have only ever lived in motels. Think about that for a moment.
Some of the young parents we serve have been homeless during their pregnancy, living in emergency accommodation, have given birth in this environment, and their children have never lived anywhere else.
This is all these precious kids have ever known.
The narrative is often that these young people are themselves to blame for their experience of homelessness. And yet, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The situations that contribute to our young people expierencing homelessness are complex, and yet so many of the young people I meet going through this experience are great parents doing everything they can to look after their kids in a really challenging environment. Many have worked really hard to attempt to find alternative accommodation, and yet because of their age, landlords aren’t open to renting to them.
For many others homelessness is a generational thing. Many of their whānau live in overcrowded houses and in environments that aren’t suitable for children, meaning that extra layer of support just isn’t there. The lack of trust in the government makes these things all the harder. Just last week I spoke with a young hapū māmā who was terrified to reach out for help.
She was terrified because she is a teenager, and she’s homeless.
Terrified, because, what if they she does reach out, what if reaches out to a midwife, or to work and income, and what if they report her to Oranga Tamariki, what if they take her baby?
This young woman is just one of far too many young wahine I have spoken to in similar situations.
Young woman who are homeless, with little support, and afraid to go to the very services and supports that exist for the sole purpose of providing for them.
And though I wish I could say that their fears are unjustified, many of our young people have had a lifetime of experience at being treated like the problem. And so far too many of these young parent’s exist below the radar. Getting what support they can, but not wanting to make waves in case it attracts the wrong form of attention.
A know it sounds almost unbelievable, but I’ve known teen parents who have had their children taken off them, while they themselves have been left to live on our streets. The assumption being that they needed to get themselves sorted, get themselves housed, before they were in a position to look after their children. I’ve spoken to parents who upon being housed with our service have shared their heartache at being abandoned to the street, reflecting that if only they had had a home, their child wouldn’t have been taken from them. I remember one particular young woman leaning across the table towards me, her voice numbed to the pain I could see in her eye’s and lamenting, “they took our kid and left us on the street, why couldn’t they have just found us a home together as a whānau?”
A problem we have here is that housing is not seen as a fundamental human right that our young parents should be granted. Instead, our young people are judged for not having it, even though they haven’t received the support or oppurtunity to access it.
This is New Zealand.
A place where children are born, and grow up, in motels, while the parent’s who raise them struggle to get by, barred from housing and support that might be available to them if they weren’t young, on a benefit, and had kids.
This is New Zealand.
A place where houses stand empty, land banked by wealthy landlords, while our children are without a safe and stable place to live.
This is New Zealand.
Where we have created an environment in which housing is viewed as a commodity, prompting landlords to make business decisions and do a cost benefit analyse, before renting to a young mother who just needs a whare for her children.
Motels are no place for a child to grow up. But until we recognize our responsibility to provide housing for all our people this will continue. Legislation is needed to ensure that housing is no longer treated as a commodity, but rather is recognized as essential for our collective survival.
Without it, without a transition away from the commodification of housing, and without a recognize that housing is a human right, and that all people should, and must, have access to it, this problem will only continue to grow.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now 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 an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.
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