New Zealand’s homelessness statistics are alarming. More than 41,000 New Zealanders are severely housing deprived, with almost half being under the age of 25. The level of rough sleeping, the most extreme form of homelessness is the visible part of a much larger issue.
On 7 July 2016, social development agency Lifewise is inviting business and community leaders to experience life on the streets through their annual Big Sleepout, which raises critical funds to tackle homelessness.
The $400,000 Lifewise aims to raise through the event will enable them to implement the internationally acclaimed Housing First model, to help at-risk Kiwis into homes and support them to live independently.
“If we meet our target, we’ll be able provide rent subsidies for a year to 80 people with complex needs, supporting them into permanent homes and providing the wrap-around services they need to live independently and well,” says Moira Lawler, Chief Executive of Lifewise.
“However, we know that supporting a small group alone won’t solve the issue. Homelessness is complex, and the solution requires a collaborative approach over a sustained period of time, with government, business and community all playing their part.”
Stripped of their creature comforts, leaders and influencers from business, community and political spheres will spend a night on cold concrete, receiving an insight into what it means to sleep rough. Their commitment is rewarded by donations from family, friends, colleagues and the public; every dollar raised goes towards Lifewise’s work for ending homelessness.
While homelessness is a nationwide problem, it is most prevalent in Auckland, where rents for three-bedroom houses have increased by 25 percent in five years. Recent ‘street counts’ indicate a sharp rise in the number of rough sleepers in central Auckland, with more than 177 people rough sleeping within three kilometers of Sky City.
Lifewise points out that homelessness isn’t limited to those sleeping on the street, in bus shelters and in parks. Especially in Auckland, where a lack of affordable housing has pushed people into substandard accommodation, people are living in cars and garages, or surviving by couch surfing and living in extremely overcrowded conditions.
2013 Census data indicates that 1 percent of New Zealand’s population can be considered “severely housing deprived,” up from 0.8 percent in 2006. Of this, 10 percent of people are living without shelter, such as on the street, in a car, or in other improvised dwelling.
Homelessness is also an economic issue, with an estimated $65,000 taxpayer dollars being spent on each homeless person annually, through use of emergency services, police, justice, and welfare services, with no improvement in a person’s well-being.
The internationally successful Housing First model is founded on the belief that housing is a basic human right, and is much more cost effective than maintaining people on the street. This approach is based on international evidence that when you house people first, then align the support services they need to be successful in their lives, the cycle of homelessness stops.
Lifewise are currently working closely with 118 people, aiming to get them into permanent housing, and then supporting them to live well in their communities. “The real challenge for us is a lack of affordable housing in Auckland,” says Moira. “When affordable accommodation is limited, getting someone off the street becomes very difficult, which is incredibly frustrating for everyone involved.”
Lifewise, along with other partner organisations, will use Housing First to address the needs of people who are chronically homeless (homeless for more than a year and with complex needs).
However, with homelessness in New Zealand rising, the demand for their services is constantly growing. On average, two new people make contact with Lifewise’s team every week. “That’s why the funds raised through the Lifewise Big Sleepout are so critical,” says Moira. “It’s our biggest fundraising event, and without it, we couldn’t respond to the growing needs of our community. We’re so grateful to those who take part and everyone who supports us.”
As well as raising funds, the Lifewise Big Sleepout aims to deconstruct misconceptions surrounding homelessness. Now in its seventh year, the impact the event has on participants continues to astound the Lifewise team.
“Talking to people who have experienced homelessness and, through us, are now stably housed, helps participants see the issue differently,” says Moira. “It humanises homelessness, and gets people talking about how we must work together to solve this issue.”
By donating to the Lifewise Big Sleepout, you’ll be helping solve homelessness in an empowering and sustainable manner. Donate today at www.lifewise.org.nz/donate. If you are interested in participating or finding out more about the Lifewise Big Sleepout, please email email@example.com or visit bigsleepout.org.nz.