Thursday October 19, 2017   Last updated 16:57PM

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Homeless Babies Our Shame

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Homeless Babies Our Shame

Organisations working at the sharp end of poverty know the plight of homelessness through the faces, voices and stories of whanau they work with hourly and daily. Manukau Urban Maori Authority (MUMA), Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust, Salvation Army, Auckland City Mission deliver invaluable services; Whanau Ora, Foodbanks, Social Service Programmes to those in need. But when whanau come in with babies and say they’re homeless - it cuts to the core of humanity. How can it be that children precious small and innocent have no roof over their tiny heads? How is it possible that a democratic first world country can’t shelter its youngest citizens? Why do we stand back and allow first nation peoples, native New Zealanders to be homeless in and on their own land? To have safe secure shelter is a basic human right.

Some of these whanau with kids featured recently in TV3’s homeless programme. Some were unemployed beneficiary whanau but many more had a working parent. The working whanau don’t qualify for HNZ because their income pushes them over the threshold. Can you image a $600 gross income disqualifying you for a State House? But the same income won’t get you into a Mangere or Manurewa rental property either, the bond being too prohibitive on a $400 a week 2 beddie property. That’s the average price out South.

So not eligible for State Housing and can’t afford private rentals. It’s a national shame that’s been progressed under successive governments.

Sue Bradford former Green MP and Human Rights activist is someone I greatly admire, she stated on Waatea5thEstate the deliberate dismantling of New Zealand’s Welfare System started with the 1985 Labour Government and Rogernomics. Named after the Labour Government Finance Minister Roger Douglas, it was a market-led restructuring and deregulation through tough monetary policies. His policies more associated with the free-market political right. So naturally when National came into power they continued the policies.

Sue Bradford, is probably the only contemporary politician apart from Hone Harawira who champions from the frontlines, literally walking in the footsteps of those they advocate on behalf of. I think there’s validity in Sue’s statement that every Government has contributed to the dire situation of whanau homelessness. Systematic removal of housing accessibility impacted on by draconian Local Council building regulations, inflation rates and a lack of strategic development of small businesses to grow domestic wealth and employment all adds to the sum of homelessness.

We’ve had rough sleepers since time immemorial; what’s distressing is that it’s on the increase. In 2014 an estimated 15,000 were sleeping rough in Auckland in overcrowded garages or couch surfing. About 150 people were on the streets in central Auckland alone. Most of them single males. So what of the rest? The author of these findings Raina Harris did a comprehensive study for Salvation Army to profile the depth and extent of homelessness.

Raina Harris identified that in 2015 the Salvation Army saw one family every three days asking for housing support in Auckland alone. That's about 10 every month, or one every three days. These whanau are different from the street sleepers - these are families; Mums, Dads and their kids. These are whole whanau living in their waka. According to Raina Harris, the figure is likely to be an under-estimate because it only included five of the Salvation Army's 13 Auckland branches, plus its Epsom Lodge hostel and De Paul House on the North Shore.

Sadly, we’ve left a sore-of-a problem to fester. Over time numerous other factors have colluded and conspired to further entrench homelessness. Political inaction, free-market policies including deconstructing social services, inflation rates, the list goes on. Worse though is that the accumulated impactors have spread its insidiousness in a web like fashion capturing more and more whanau including children. What a way to start life. Forced to journey down a pathway not of their making or even that of their parents. This is a national shame.

There are no quick fix solutions but there are long term answers. We could start by ditching the political blame game and start thinking what we can do if ‘for the grace of god’ there go I. Firstly, support those organisations like MUMA, Waipareira Trust, Sallies, Auckland City Mission to deliver their needed services. Lobby both Local and Central Government to act quicker cut the red tape on social housing devlopments and open up vacate State Houses to whanau in need. Most importantly, ask ourselves how we would feel if it was our tamariki and mokopuna were homeless. How do we keep an eye on whanau and make sure they’re ok? Can we support them in accessing information resources that will keep them and their tamariki off the streets?

Every Maori and every New Zealander deserves a roof over their heads, to deny them is a national shame but to allow our babies to live in anything else other than a warm secure whare is a breach of human rights. But it seems it’s a breach we’re willing to accept - if that’s the case it’s not only shameful, it’s sinful.

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