Hutt at Heart
Keys in a door

Women’s Refuge clients face desperate struggle for housing

As Hutt City Women’s Refuge heads towards summer – its busiest time – how it will settle already traumatised women and their children into new homes is becoming an increasingly worrying prospect.

One of the refuge’s key roles is providing crisis accommodation and support for women and their children who are in imminent danger of domestic violence. Part of this work includes helping these families into safe long-term accommodation.

For the last two years, settling traumatised women and their children into new long-term accommodation has become increasingly difficult, Hutt City Women’s Refuge Safe House Coordinator Jo Bouchier says.

She lets out a deep sigh before telling how a migrant client and her child, running out of housing options, recently moved into Lower Hutt office block.

“So we have a (commercial) landlord taking advantage of a woman with little money, and she accepts the situation because of her fears over her visa status,” she says. “This accommodation is wholly unsuitable and our concern is for those like her who are forced to consider other make-shift accommodation.”

The refuge’s 22-bed safe house is contracted by Ministry of Social Development to provide crisis accommodation for women and their children for up to 23 days. Jo says the 23-day period is now just an aspiration. One client family has been at the safe house for more than three months.

While women and children staying longer makes it harder to manage space at the safe house for new arrivals, there are other unwanted side-effects.

“A child coming to the refuge is traumatised. A new family arrives and they are in a distressed state and this can exacerbate the trauma of the children already here,” Jo says.

At the same time, the uncertainty of ever getting a long-term home adds to the emotional and psychological strain on already highly vulnerable families, she says.

Jo says strong competition for private rentals and rising rents is effectively excluding low-income mothers and their children from the private rental market.

As Lower Hutt’s population grows and Wellington residents increasingly compete for rental properties in Lower Hutt, rents are rising and landlords are becoming less inclined to rent to single mothers on low incomes. Private rents in the northern and eastern wards of the city rose more than 23 per cent in the past three years. In Wainuiomata, they increased 18 per cent for the same period.

Social housing options are also limited with the public housing waiting list in Lower Hutt jumping 85 per cent between June 2017 and June 2018. Most of those on the waiting list are in the highest category of housing need.

Analysis of the last census results showed single parents and their children were the largest group of homeless people.

Hutt City Council has researched the extent of homelessness in Lower Hutt and the services available to homeless people and families. In the coming weeks, Council will discuss a strategic approach to homelessness in Lower Hutt, and Council’s role in responding to the problem.

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