MONIQUE FORD / STUFF/Stuff
High property prices, rising rents and Covid-19 have collided to send youth housing requests through the roof.
They’re too old to be kids, too young to have the resources older people have. And hundreds more young people aged 16-24 have found themselves needing emergency housing lately.
Housing shortages and rising rents have collided with the Covid-19 pandemic to send demand for urgent accommodation soaring.
Now the Children’s Commissioner and an Auckland community trust say the issue needs urgent attention.
Motel accommodation is the silver lining of the coronavirus lockdown for homeless people around the country. (Video first published May 1, 2020)
From March to June, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) recorded a 68 per cent increase in clients aged 16-24 needing emergency housing special needs grants.
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And data released under the Official Information Act also shows more young people are seeking special needs grants for motels, hotels and other accommodation.
Kendra Horning of VisionWest Community Trust in West Auckland says homelessness for young people almost always starts from a family breakup or other traumatic event, which means home is no longer safe.
“They’ve been kicked out, there’s been a breakdown, they can’t stay.”
The Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant is available to people who can’t stay at their usual home, if they even have one, and who cannot access other adequate accommodation.
The amount granted rose by almost $5 million, or 64 per cent, in the June quarter.
“People turn up here with all of their belongings and just say: I stayed at a friend’s, but from today I need a more permanent place,” said Horning, who is also a youth development coach.
She’s concerned about the viability and safety of motels and hotels as housing for young adults.
Horning said some naive young people were at risk from predatory guests, and others risked sabotaging their futures in an unmonitored environment.
“It makes it super hard for us to find alternatives because they’re happy where they are with no rules.”
In the June quarter, 1738 young people needed grants for motels or hotels. In March, only 1155 distinct clients were issued grants for emergency housing in these facilities.
Judge Andrew Becroft, the Children’s Commissioner, said he was “enormously concerned” after seeing the latest MSD data.
Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says the figures are deeply concerning.
“The consequences are pretty significant, and we as a country, we need to wake up to the issue. It genuinely imperils the future of young people.”
Becroft said he would be inquiring about how many of the young people needing urgent housing were under 18.
Brook Turner, VisionWest head of community service development, said too many vulnerable young people were being kept in inappropriate housing.
“Would I allow my daughter who’s 16 or 17 to stay at a motel herself?”
Turner said New Zealanders should ask if it was acceptable for young people to fall out of mainstream society and not be housed.
He said better services would save the country money in the long-term by getting people off benefits at an earlier stage.
“When a young person becomes homeless, whether they’re 16, 18, or 22, it’s usually because they started at a different start line in life than you or I.”
He said poverty, trauma, addiction and domestic violence typified the backgrounds of young people who became homeless.
Turner said different public agencies should align strategies but the Government should also examine how community groups could tackle problems affecting young people.
“We don’t have a specific strategy to address youth homelessness.”
Last month, the Ngā Tini Whetū programme addressing child safety was unveiled. Ngā Tini Whetū is a collaboration between multiple agencies, iwi and other Māori groups.
Turner said VisionWest already worked with public agencies but more could be done to tackle youth homelessness.
“The solution is listening to communities. Housing young people isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s not easy at the best of times, but one of the most rewarding things you could ever do.”
Demand was growing nationally for emergency housing as a dearth of affordable housing and rising rents hit low-income whānau, especially beneficiaries, MSD said.
“The ministry recognises that motels are not a long-term solution or the solution that we want to deliver for people who are potentially in a vulnerable situation,” MSD’s housing general manager Karen Hocking added.
She said MSD supported people through the coronavirus pandemic period with accommodation where people could safely self-isolate.
“Due to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, people also could not easily move out of emergency housing into long-term accommodation during this period, contributing to longer durations of stay and higher costs.”