About 200 ‘sleeping rough’ in city

GETTING BY: Damian Ranger has spent much of his life on the streets, but for the last six months, he has had a room to sleep in. PHOTO: MARTIN HUNTER

Damian Ranger has spent much of his life living on the streets.

He came to Christchurch from the streets of Paraparaumu about 40 years ago.

Locks, as all the “streeties” know him, spends about four days a week sitting on the footpath next to Colombo St with a cardboard sign collecting money.

He said the owners of the Metromart, which he often sat outside, didn’t mind.

“As long as I keep it tidy.”

For the last six months, Locks has been staying with a friend in Edgeware, who offered to take him in because she was once homeless herself.

He stays there at night, and heads into town on his bike during the day to collect the $135 needed to pay his weekly rent. He said he wanted to pay his way.

Any extra was spent on food, sometimes fish and chips, or Chinese.

When Locks first arrived in Christchurch he got a job working for a salvage company through a former girlfriend. But he stopped working there when they broke up.

He said when he moved down, all his friends were streeties.

Since then, he had spent time living on the streets, in abandoned buildings or staying at Nga Hau E Wha National Marae on Pages Rd with about 15 others.

Locks said he was lucky to have a room to sleep in.

About 200 people are “sleeping rough” in Christchurch at any one time.

That’s what a street count done by city council staff has found, as part the development of a proposal to help alleviate the city’s homeless problem.

The count found 84 per cent slept solely on the street, 75 per cent were Maori men, 57 per cent were aged between 25 and 50, while 38 per cent said leaving prison was the reason they were sleeping rough.

The city council, community housing providers, Government social services agencies and organisations working with the homeless, have developed a Housing First proposal to help get more people into warm and safe accommodation.

It aims to address homelessness by working on the causes behind it, and has been presented to the Ministry of Social Development to progress.

The idea works on the basis it is easier for people to address issues such as mental health
or addiction, once they are housed.

So, if it gets the go-ahead, it would prioritise getting people into homes, before providing wrap-around services and support for them to deal with those issues.

If the accommodation they are put in is not right for that particular person, an alternate would be found.

Housing First initiatives have already been rolled out in Auckland and Hamilton.

In August, the Government invested $16.5 million in the 2017 budget to expand Housing First into areas of high need.

As part of the proposal, Christchurch Methodist Mission, Emerge Aotearoa and Comcare Trust would take the lead, supported by Christchurch City Mission, Te Whare Roimata and Collective for the Homeless.

Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey did not want to comment on the proposal as it was still under negotiation with the Ministry.

Ministry of Social Development housing deputy chief executive Scott Gallacher said the Ministry was pleased to receive the Christchurch proposal.

“We are now working through the detail of that proposal. We are not able to offer any further comment at this time, but expect to be able to do so in the near future.”

Collective for the Homeless co-ordinator Brenda Lowe-Johnson said the Housing First policy would work.

“I think it’s the answer for homeless problems down here in Christchurch.”

She said the street count figures were what she expected.

“We have to make some desperate measures, because things are really bad out there.”

She had travelled to Auckland with Ms Hawkey to look at how its Housing First worked to get ideas for the proposal.

Central Ward city councillor Deon Swiggs said he was confident the Ministry would support the initiative.

He said homeless people were vulnerable, and needed more assistance.

“What you see down the street is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“People that fall through the cracks – we need to be able to make sure they are looked after.”

A report is expected to go to the city council’s social, community development and housing committee next month, which would look at time frames, what role the city council would play, and further advice.

City council funding for the initiative would need to be considered as part of the 2018 long-term plan process.