Street: National Homelessness Conference Speech

Published: Mon 3 Dec 2007 10:43 AM
December 3, 2007 Speech
Speech to the National Homelessness Conference
Te Papa
E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga karangataha maha tena koutou katoa.
E te whare e tu nei, tena koe, e te marae e takoto i runga, tena koe, a tena korua.
E nga mate kua haere i te po, haere, haere, haere.
He mihi ki nga tangata katoa, kua tae mai nei i runga te kaupapa o te ra.
Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ki te kete.
No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
Good morning. I am delighted to be here today to open the 2007 National Homelessness Conference. This is my first public speaking engagement since I was appointed Minister of Housing last month.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to be given the Housing portfolio because I feel passionate about the Labour-led government's commitment to the State providing safe, secure and affordable housing for our most vulnerable families and people.
In my inaugural speech to parliament just over two years ago I spoke of my desire for a growing, productive economy which would lift the living standards of all people in New Zealand - so that there was no child in desperate need, no sub-standard housing and no illnesses of poverty.
I spoke of the need for a fairer and more compassionate country where minorities were not pushed to the margins.
It seems apt to reiterate these personal “first principles” now in my first formal speech in the job, not least because the homeless are among our most marginalised citizens.
Having been on the Housing New Zealand board for five years prior to entering parliament, I am fortunate to pick up the reins with a solid grounding in the housing sector and a grasp of the issues that are faced by all those who work as volunteers and advocates in this area.
This also means that like you all, I am well aware that there is no quick fix to housing issues – whether it is housing affordability, waiting lists, community group and council housing or homelessness.
All of these issues cut right across the social spectrum: families young and old, middle income earners, low income earners, people with special needs, disabilities or mental health issues.
Because I’m a strong advocate of the need for social housing, I’m also a strong advocate of agencies which support the Government’s vision that all New Zealanders have access to affordable, sustainable, good quality housing appropriate to their needs.
This vision is outlined in the New Zealand Housing Strategy, which also commits to a review of funding policies and support for emergency housing.
Housing New Zealand currently provides about 90 houses to emergency housing service providers – who are largely Non-Government Organisations.
Housing New Zealand is now undertaking that review of the non-government social housing sector and looking at how community groups who rent houses through Community Group Housing are funded.
I am aware previous forums have criticised central government for not addressing issues of homelessness.
There is always room for improvement and I hope this review will tackle some of those concerns. I will touch on some additional areas where we need to make progress later and will also be interested in other solutions raised by you during this conference.
It is of course important to remind ourselves that housing is a social need and a social responsibility.
It is not up to central government alone to solve, nor is it the sole domain of NGOs, local councils or communities. It is something that must be done together, hand-in-hand.
But a good deal has been and is being done to address homelessness issues at a central government level.
Here are a few quick facts to demonstrate this.
 Last year there were more than 200,000 New Zealanders in state homes, and more than 400 community groups who received support from Housing New Zealand.
 Each day, Housing New Zealand places more than 25 households in to homes.
 We develop and fund partnerships with local government, and the voluntary and private sectors to increase the supply of affordable homes and provide emergency housing.
Every year, an additional 10,000 individuals and families are assisted in to homes by Housing New Zealand. Most of those who are helped were unable to find suitable, long-term accommodation on their own.
Housing New Zealand is also engaged in a variety of on-going improvements which recognise the increasingly complex needs of applicants and tenants and which are focused on ensuring tenancies are more sustainable.
The Corporation is helping to develop an emergency housing sector that: helps families and individuals to recover from life-disrupting events; builds up people’s skills to sustain a home; provides support services and supports community groups to maintain social housing and cohesive communities.
Housing Innovation Fund loans and grants have also been provided by Housing New Zealand to social housing providers such as Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, Friendship Centre Trust, Bays Community Housing Trust and Challenge Trust for the development of emergency housing.
Housing New Zealand also works together with other government agencies such as the Ministry of Social Development, Department of Corrections and Ministry of Health to fund support services and ongoing accommodation costs.
Through its community group housing programme, Housing New Zealand provides rental homes for government-funded groups or organisations that provide residential community services for people with mental illness, disabilities, young people, women seeking refuge and people needing emergency housing.
In terms of intervention and prevention, there are two notable partnerships between the Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand: the Vulnerable Families pilot and the Strengthening Families initiative.
Nearly 80 families with multiple and complex needs are taking part in the nationwide Vulnerable Families pilot, which began last year. Service co-ordinators work closely with families by providing intensive case management, co-ordinated and timely services as well as appropriate intervention.
Strengthening Families aims to encourage social agencies and families to work out joint solutions by providing coordinated support.
Housing New Zealand also works closely with local councils, especially those in the major cities, on housing and homelessness issues.
The Corporation is currently working on a Housing Pathways framework, which will provide a method of developing interventions to respond to key life crisis events in people’s lives with a view to assisting people into sustainable housing.
Around 250,000 households receive an Accommodation Supplement from the Department of Work and Income. The supplement is available to low income earners and beneficiaries who are renters or home owners.
The Ministry of Social Development also funds community groups to provide services that prevent or alleviate homelessness such as domestic violence services, budgetary advice, advocacy and support services.
Its Work and Income regional offices, of course, also work with the homeless.
Case managers assist clients to find suitable accommodation by referral to local agencies; including Women’s Refuge and Housing New Zealand.
They also work closely with various agencies within their own areas; so, for example, the Wellington region works closely with the Downtown Community Ministry and the housing unit of the Wellington City Council.
Case managers also provide emergency assistance for items like bond and rent, food, bedding, furniture etc through Special Needs Grant, Advances or Recoverable Assistance Payments where client’s individual circumstances and needs meet the criteria.
In the Auckland region, the Queen Street Service Centre Manager acts as the coordinator for requests from other agencies for assistance for homeless people and provides guidance to other service centre managers in the region, should they receive a request for assistance for a homeless person.
The client is assigned a case manager who is experienced in dealing with homeless people, who then helps the client to obtain a birth certificate for identification purposes and to open a bank account. The case manager liaises closely with the social worker until all issues are resolved.
Existing clients are also referred to a Housing New Zealand representative, located on site at Work and Income Queen Street, who works with the client to find housing solutions for them.
The Social Development Ministry has been actively involved in the development of the Auckland City Council Homeless Action Plan. Ministry staff have attended council-run homelessness forums and working group meetings to advise on the content of the action plan.
They have also provided information about and explored options for employment and income support services to the homeless.
Work and Income has supported the setting up of a mobile after-hours service to homeless people in Auckland, providing them with access to emergency services and information during the night and referring them to core government agencies during working hours.
Work and Income has also developed a fact sheet to assist social workers working with homeless people and maintains strong working relationships with agencies such as the Auckland City Mission, whose clients are given Work and Income priority when an urgent case arises.
Other government agencies also provide support, but there’s not time for an extensive summary of central government funding and services today.
Research on homelessness is of course critical to reducing it. Housing New Zealand provides funding for, and works alongside, other organisations that research a broad spectrum of housing issues including homelessness.
In fact Housing New Zealand has contributed to the funding of the first edition of Parity magazine, which will be launched after I have finished this speech!
As many of you may know, Parity is a publication produced by the Council To Homeless Persons in Australia. It reports on the range of issues associated with homelessness and the provision of housing and services to homeless people.
Housing New Zealand has also granted $20,000 in support of research, due to be presented later today, into the cost of rough sleeping in Auckland.
I understand the research is based on a study called ‘Million Dollar Murray’ undertaken in the United States, which looked at the cost of providing health, police and other services to rough sleepers.
The Corporation has also put $6,750 towards production costs for the documentary film ‘Focus on Homelessness’, which aims to raise awareness of homelessness issues. I believe that the premiere of the film is on later today. Although I am unable to stay for it – I will make sure to take a copy away with me.
What I am particularly keen to explore as Housing Minister is partnerships – both within and outside of Government. I doubt whether anyone here would disagree this is area that requires some work!
There could be some large gains, without too much effort, to be made by developing new relationships and maintaining those already established.
The Auckland City Mission project is a perfect example of what can be achieved when local and central government and NGOs join together. Another would be Housing New Zealand’s Community Group Housing, which I have already mentioned.
Partnerships are particularly important given the complexity of homelessness; its causes and its solutions and the fact there is a continuum of need and response.
While Housing New Zealand can provide homes to those who are capable of sustaining a tenancy, I do believe NGOs are best placed to provide emergency housing with support from central and local government.
I want to acknowledge the role local government is playing in terms of policy formation and service delivery. They too are key partners in the development of solutions.
The emergency housing review underway is looking at the provision of funding for these services across government.
Providers are taking a lead and my predecessor recently met with a delegation of Auckland providers who are seeking the development of a national funding strategy.
I will be talking to my counterparts in Health and Social Development about this issue and expect that officials from each of the three government agencies will do the same.
The evolution of support for those who are homeless has been rather ad hoc in the past, with no clear delineation of whose responsibility it is to provide services.
As Minister I would like to help ensure that this becomes much clearer and that a more coordinated, seamless approach to support services across government agencies is developed.
I wish you all the very best for the next two days and hope that it is an enjoyable and fruitful time for you all.
Ka kite ano.

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