Covid-19 has caused big changes in downtown Auckland. With international students and foreign workers nowhere to be found, concerns are growing that it will become a crime-ridden ghost town. But in the midst of darkness there are glimmers of hope. Stuff explores the future of downtown Auckland.
Everything Derek owns is on a bench outside the Auckland Public Library.
He has just cooked his dinner of fish and eggs on a camping stove. If it rains tonight, he’ll sleep under the awning next door. But if it’s okay, he’ll head to Aotea Square.
Derek is one of hundreds of homeless people in downtown Auckland.
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During the Covid-19 closures, many homeless people in the city were offered emergency accommodation in hotels in the city, in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development assists people in emergency accommodation by helping them access benefits, budgeting and health services.
Derek received emergency housing during the Covid-19 lockdown in August. He was given a room at the Goodview Hotel on nearby Hobson St, but it only lasted two weeks.
He says he lost his magnetic card for the door and couldn’t find hotel staff to get a replacement, so he just went back to the street.
During his two weeks at Goodview, he said no one had come to see him.
Those in the field to whom it is intended Things say Covid-19 has highlighted the problem of homelessness and that lessons can be learned.
Owen Pomana, Ngati Kahungunu, from Humanity NZ knows what it’s like to be homeless. He survived on the streets of Kings Cross in Sydney before coming into contact with justice.
He has since changed his life and become a preacher, helping the homeless for the past six years. âIt’s a privilege to be able to restore people’s lives.
At its peak, his organization fed up to 200 homeless people, twice a day, seven days a week.
âAnyone who tells you they like being homeless is a liarâ¦ It’s hard to watch elderly gentlemen eat out of trash cans. “
Despite the decrease in Covid-19 restrictions, Humanity NZ is still active, providing food, clothing and blankets to those in need.
Pomana says many of those who live in emergency housing have never lived in apartments before and do not trust the âsystemâ.
There are also those who cannot read and do not know how to pay their bills or keep a house clean.
He says gangs also use the streets to recruit people to sell drugs, especially synthetic “zombie drug” cannabis.
There are “wrap-around” services, Pomana says, “but they don’t go the extra mile.”
Pomana would like to see a âmatchmaking serviceâ where emergency housing residents are matched and can help each other.
He would like a more âholisticâ approach to be applied to homelessness. This could include the use of marae outside of cities, to teach crafts, kai cultivation techniques and fishing.
Over the past 20 years, Michelle Kidd has supported the homeless and other vulnerable people, negotiating their way through the justice system.
A strong advocate for therapeutic justice, the Kidd’s Te Rangimarie Charitable Trust has a permanent office in the Auckland District Court.
She says some families in emergency housing live next door to people with mental health issues, drug addiction and alcoholism and sometimes all three. Many suffer from violence and threats.
âThat’s why they find themselves here, lying outside the courthouse. They say, ‘Whea, at least I know you won’t let nobody hurt us here.’
She says she saw a district court judge and prosecutors challenge defense attorneys over ‘comprehensive support’ standards when an emergency accommodation hotel was set up as a possible surety address. .
âDon’t tell me there is support. There’s no. There are people who are making millions and there is no accountability.
The areas of expertise of Shiloh Groot, professor of psychology at the University of Auckland, include homelessness and urban poverty.
She says homelessness is another social measure where Maori and Pasifikas are overrepresented and is a symptom of poor education, housing, income, justice and health outcomes, to name a few some.
âSome would have lived on the streets for years, others would have lived in a precarious situation for years,â she says.
âYou house a whole bunch of people who may not be the best for each other or who are not able to support each other. “
Groot says there are long-time drug addicts housed with people straight out of prison, and then families who have lived in cars.
“It is not the most humane and efficient system, it is not the most united way of helping people … I think there would be a fear that it was only the creation of another kind of ghetto. “
She says some choose not to engage in emergency housing, possibly for lack of confidence in government institutions.
The lockdown emergency housing initiatives in 2020 were the first time there has been a concerted effort to tackle homelessness and there were encouraging signs, she said.
But focusing only on accommodating people without meeting other needs was doomed to fail.
âLong-term maintenance and this social investment in people to guarantee their development is lacking. They are just tinkering around the edges.
Groot says there are community organizations doing âamazingâ work, but the new funding is not necessarily reaching those who need it most.
Radical change is needed, she says, including regulation of the housing market and further changes to laws governing landlords. “That’s all that’s unpopular.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said the demand for emergency housing continues to rise due to factors such as housing shortages and rising rents. The Covid-19 posed additional challenges.
âThe housing problems in New Zealand have been in the making for decades – they cannot be solved overnight or by government alone. “
The spokesperson said during the Covid-19 pandemic there had been inter-agency work to find additional housing, order a freeze on rent increases, stop lease terminations and allow postponement of mortgage payments. .
The Homelessness Action Plan, which came into effect in February last year, aims to help 10,000 people nationwide find housing over the next three years.