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Christchurch initiative helping to house the homeless

Thursday, December 12, 2019   Posted in: Signatory Notice Board By: Administrator With tags: housing, Community Groups, services

Christchurch City Council Newsline: 12th December 2019

It has taken Woody some time to adjust to having a comfortable home of his own after years of sleeping rough on the streets.

Woody moved into his own unit in late September thanks to support from a new Christchurch programme called Housing First, which helps chronically homeless people. For the first few weeks he couldn’t sleep because lying in a soft bed inside felt so strange.

Now he is house proud and keeps the unit spotlessly clean and tidy. The shelves are full of ornamental mugs he has found at a local op shop and there are photos and second hand paintings on the walls.

He has planted tomatoes and potatoes in small garden plots outside and is hopeful that one day he might be able to have a cat for company.

It’s a big step up from sleeping in an old shed or camping amongst trees near New Brighton beach. “It’s awesome,” he says. “Just look at it.”

Woody is one of 70 people who were sleeping rough in Christchurch and now have a secure roof over their heads, through Housing First. The joint initiative between the Christchurch Methodist Mission, Emerge Aotearoa, Comcare, Christchurch City Mission, Ōtautahi Housing Trust and Te Whare Roimata began operating in May 2018.

It has helped 70 men and women who were previously homeless into housing eighteen months later, and is continuing to provide them with wrap-around support.

36 have been in their accommodation for less than six months, 12 people for between six and 12 months, and 22 people for over a year.

Christchurch City Council is providing financial support to the Housing First two-year pilot programme, which aims to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-recurring”.  

Council Social Housing Manager Carmen Lynskey says it's great to see the initiative having a positive impact. "Christchurch is a caring city and we want to make sure all our residents have a safe, secure place to live. We're happy to support Housing First to help achieve that goal."

Woody hadn’t had a stable place to live for several years after his work on oil rigs in Taranaki and on fishing boats ended. When he arrived in Christchurch he knew no-one and caught a bus out to New Brighton.

For about two years he camped in parks, near the beach, and dossed down in an old shed for a while.

He says without Housing First and a friend who has supported him, he would probably still be living on the streets. “On the streets I got to know a lot of people I respected and some I didn’t respect. But here I’ve got security.”

Housing First Team Leader Nicola Fleming says housing 22 people for over a year is a satisfying achievement. “It’s awesome. That’s the number we like looking at because that’s sustained housing where kaewa - our clients - are settling and making a home rather than just a house. Every kaewa we house is a great achievement and wonderful for that person.

“If you take 70 people off the street and put them into homes, that’s just amazing. Before that they were people in the 'too hard basket' that no-one gave any time to or seemed to care about. The programme is about choice, offering them housing in a location that works for them and providing support, which is why the programme is so successful.

Housing First staff refer to the people they support as “kaewa” which loosely translates from te reo Maori for traveller.

Some of them like Woody, are living in units that were part of the Council’s social housing portfolio which is now being managed by Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust. But others are in accommodation provided by private landlords with the tenancy relationship managed by Ōtautahi Housing Trust or Emerge Aotearoa.

Woody says it was a lonely time being homeless. “I used to sit down at the beach or go into the library. Sometimes I’d sit on my backpack outside the pub and watch the rugby through the window. Now I feel looked after.”