Hutt at Heart

Council puts its homelessness strategy to work

Hutt City Council has moved quickly to put its Homelessness Strategy into action with the first families now receiving council-funded services.

Two months after funding was approved, Council has finalised a contract with local social service agency, the Tuatahi Centre, which is assisting homeless families into the fiercely competitive private rental market – a market lower-income and vulnerable households often find themselves excluded from.

Tuatahi Centre has a track record of working with landlords and investors to establish and support its clients into sustainable tenancies. It is also in the process of becoming a registered Community Housing Provider, enabling it to provide a high standard of housing at affordable rents.

Council is also finalising a contract with Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley to provide housing advice and advocacy for those experiencing homelessness or housing hardship. This service is expected to start in October. In addition, Council is now considering proposals from social service agencies to provide services that help families and individuals at risk of losing their tenancies from becoming homeless.

Council has allocated $1.6 million over three years to implement the Homelessness Strategy. It will be reviewed after three years.

Hutt City Council Chief Executive Jo Miller says Lower Hutt’s social service organisations, its health professionals, teachers, those who have found themselves homeless as well as concerned citizens were critical to identifying the extent and the impact of homelessness and in developing the strategy.

“Homelessness and housing hardship are a source of immense misery and lost opportunities for too many of our people – especially our children. It puts great pressure on our health services and schools, and it has a negative impact on the city’s economy,” she says.

“So this is far more than an issue for central government to figure out. It’s happening in our city, in our neighbourhoods, to our people so we all need to come together as one to solve this complex and devastating problem.”

Tuatahi Centre Operations Centre Manager Awhina Vailima says the centre has seen a disturbing rise in demand for its services, especially in the past year.

“The profile of homelessness has shifted significantly and the outlook for these vulnerable families has become increasingly worrisome and concerning.”

Most of the centre’s client families are living in overcrowded conditions or those who have been placed in emergency accommodation such as motels. The rising cost of private rentals is the main cause of housing hardship and homelessness, she says.

While the centre has worked successfully with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, investors, private landlords and social services to support and place vulnerable families in homes, its impending registration as a community housing provider will add considerably to its capacity to offer affordable, quality housing.

The Homelessness Strategy followed a year of research and engagement with a broad range of NGOs, government agencies and local community, health and education organisations. It showed homelessness and housing hardship in the city have increased over the past 12 years and it has become more difficult to get people into suitable and affordable homes.

The strategy and its accompanying action plan focuses on homelessness prevention, filling some of the service gaps identified, and working in conjunction with current government services.

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