New Zealand / Housing

Nelson homeless problem 'as bad as big cities'

18:33 pm on 1 June 2018

Homelessness has nearly doubled in Nelson and a support service says the problem there is just as bad as in big cities.

Tama, Philip Chapman of Male Room, and Patariki Tawhiao. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal.

Male Room, a Nelson-based men's support and advocacy service, today released a report, The Word From the Street, exploring the experiences of 35 homeless men.

It detailed the health, social and correctional services available in the Nelson area.

University of Otago research, used in the report, said more than 40,000 New Zealanders were classed as homeless in 2016.

Census data showed the number of homeless people in Nelson almost doubled to 400 in the seven years to 2013.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese said there was no central register for recording accurately, but now, five years on from the 2013 Census, the number was bound to be higher.

Male Room founder and director Philip Chapman, who also helped research the report, said homelessness was often hidden as people led isolated lives in remote locations.

"Over the last year we found we were getting more and more guys coming in, homeless.

"We saw a real increase about halfway through last year and we've realised we need to start looking after this group."

Of those surveyed, most were Māori or Pasifika. Twenty-one slept rough, seven lived in a night shelter and the remainder in what was termed basic housing, such as a shed.

Most had not eaten in at least a day, were jobless and a few had no income at all.

About half had mental health issues, most had left school without any qualifications and most had suffered family violence.

Tama, who did not want his surname used, told his story at the launch.

He used to have a job, a house, a family, and a car.

He said it was okay being homeless in summer, but temperatures in winter sometimes dropped below freezing.

Tama was currently camping out with other homeless people, waiting for a room in Nelson's boarding hostel, Franklyn Village.

"We spend about $20 for stuff for the camp - the gas, the water - who gets the water ... and we kind of share our food. We have our boil-ups."

His story was typical among the men, Philip Chapman said.

Mayor Rachel Reese said the report was a snapshot of New Zealand.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese. Photo: RNZ/Tracy Neal.

"What we do know, based on Census data, is that between 2006 and 2013, Nelson, Auckland and Wellington regions showed the biggest increase in homelessness - and where Nelson sits is very poorly understood at a government level."

Patariki Tawhiao told his story and said no one else was to blame for his situation.

"How did I end up here like this? Because I chose it. I've worked in Nelson for over 25 years - I've planted trees up in these hill here, I've shucked [shellfish] at the port down there.

"I can be walking down the street and I'll pick up something, or even something out of the bin, and they'll treat me like, aw, I'm a bum, scum, that I'm worthless."

Despite this there had been some bright moments, he said.

"There are people who look after me.

"They come up to me and say, 'Have you got anything to eat? Are you warm?'"

Mr Chapman said while there were agencies set up to help, there were gaps in how they connected them with those in greatest need.

Ms Reese hoped the report will be a catalyst for change. A community forum was planned for later in the year to look at immediate practical steps.