Government to increase housing for the homeless this winter

UPDATED 11.50PM: National’s housing spokesman Simon O’Connor says the Coalition government’s announcement on housing is a pale imitation of the previous government’s support for emergency housing.

Mr O’Connor says in 2016 National announced a $304 million emergency housing package to provide an extra 1400 places at any one time.

“That was new money to help thousands of vulnerable New Zealanders and it was on top of rolling out Housing First, building more houses and increasing the supply of emergency and transitional housing.”

EARLIER: The government has said it will spend $37.1m this winter to provide housing for the homeless.

By the end of September it aims to have 1500 more accommodation places than at the same time last year.

But none of this is new money. The increased spending on accommodation for the homeless will come from re-allocating money from the existing social housing budget.

The government though will announce new spending of $63.4m over the next four years in the May 17 budget. That money will go toward boosting the number of places available under the Housing First programme.

Under Housing First, people with housing problems are found accommodation quickly before then being provided with support to deal with their underlying problems such as poor physical or mental health, substance abuse and unemployment. It is an international programme which has operated in Hamilton since 2014 and been piloted in Auckland since last year.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford says Housing First is a programme for the most vulnerable people and families.

“It aims to end homelessness, not just manage it,” he says.

For this winter the Ministry of Social Development is intending to provide 300 additional transitional housing places, 116 more short-term contracted motel units, 50 extra Housing First places and another 1071 places in state housing.

“Our government will make sure everyone is helped to find warm, dry housing this winter and our most vulnerable people and families get the intensive help they need,” Mr Twyford says.

Labour had campaigned strongly on the issue of homelessness, accusing the previous National-led government of doing too little to help those struggled to find accommodation. Last July Mr Twyford, then Labour’s housing spokesman, said National’s legacy was a housing crisis, which had given New Zealand the worst homeless rate in the developed world.

In the speech from the throne setting out the coalition government’s agenda last November it had promised to take action on child poverty and homelessness.

The government will be depending on today’s announcement to make a material difference this winter. The last thing it will want is media stories in the middle of winter about people and families sleeping in cars and garages.

But it still is going to use motel units to accommodate some people, despite its criticism of the previous government for doing the same thing.

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