Salvation Army Community Ministries Team Leader Ros Vercoe. Photo: Kate Russell.

Emergency housing shortage

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Two new emergency houses opened, but still not enough to keep up.

Community agencies are saying there is “not enough” emergency accommodation in Nelson, despite two extra emergency houses opening this month.

In total, there are now four 12- week-stay emergency houses in Nelson, plus a four-person room in Franklyn Village which can be used for a week.

All of them are regularly occupied, and all of them have waiting lists.

The two new houses join another two that opened in March, under a contract between The Salvation Army and the Ministry of Social Development, that could see up to six in Nelson.

But Salvation Army Community Ministries Team Leader, Ros Vercoe, says they won’t go far.

“We definitely have a homeless problem in Nelson,” she says.

And it is a problem that is getting worse, with more families spending the winter living in tents and caravans, and even up to 20 people sharing a two bedroom house.

“That’s definitely happening in our region.”

“We always have people waiting, we still do. A day wouldn’t go by when we don’t have someone ring or come in asking for accommodation.”

“But we don’t physically have enough places that we can just say ‘yep, sure we’ll put you up’ – we just can’t do that. It’s never going to be enough, and that’s the difficulty.”

Ros estimates that there would be around 50 people on MSD’s social housing list in Nelson, but no one can put a finger on how many homeless people there really are.

“There are the ones who are couch surfing, sleeping in the bushes, in tents, in cars – there would probably be up to 100 people in total, homeless.”

“There is just such a need, and it’s quite hidden.”

Ros says, for all the people they can’t offer an emergency house to they have to refer to Work and Income to get an emergency housing grant, which will put them up in a motel or hostel for seven days.

“That’s very much the process at the moment, because it is just so hard to find places.”

340 grants were handed out in Nelson from September 2016 – June 2017. On a national level, a whopping $12.6m was spent on 11,446 grants in second quarter of 2017, according to MSD’s latest statistics on hardship assistance.

It is a major blowout for the scheme which, introduced in May last year, only has an annual budget of $2m.

Ros says a lack of affordable housing, rentals, and rising rents are “absolutely” contributing to the situation, which is something that Nelson Tasman Housing Trust director Carrie Mozena agrees with.

But Carrie adds that providing more emergency housing is “like putting a sticking plaster” on the problem.

“Emergency housing is there to help people who are desperate, but frankly I’m sceptical of putting money into that when the money should be going towards building more affordable rental homes for people,” she says.

“There is just not enough housing in Nelson to meet our population growth, and there are some very sad stories out there. There is a lot of building going on but it’s not at the affordable rental end, and that’s the root of the problem.”