In November 2017, Council asked officers to examine homelessness in Lower Hutt, the range and depth of the problem, the services available to homeless people and families, and what Council’s role might be in addressing homelessness.
Following this research, Council has been engaging further with stakeholders to develop a homelessness strategy and action plan for the city.
Homelessness is a complex and wide-ranging problem that no one institution, sector or community can solve. A homelessness strategy aims to improve the current response to homelessness in the city. A targeted plan with clear priorities and commitment can help prevent homelessness, end rough sleeping and minimise the harm homelessness causes to individuals and families.
An insufficient supply of suitable and affordable housing is at the root of homelessness. Together with responding to immediate homelessness, Council is working to improve housing supply and affordability in the city.
Homelessness in Lower Hutt
Homelessness is defined as a living situation where people have no option to acquire safe and secure housing. This can include sleeping rough or in vehicles, living temporarily with friends or family or in hostels, motels or overcrowded or unsafe dwellings.
Homelessness is difficult to measure precisely. Census figures suggest it increased in Lower Hutt by 41 per cent between the 2006 and 2013 censuses to 913 people. However, there have been increases in the number of people in temporary and emergency housing – including hostels – over the past two years. As homeless people are often in transient situations or difficult to contact, the true number is higher than official data indicates. Social service agencies and the Ministry of Social Development believe housing hardship and homelessness have increased over the last two years.
More recent housing data that helps illustrate homelessness and high demand for rental accommodation in Lower Hutt includes:
- Rents increased by around 26 per cent in the northern and eastern wards between September 2015 and September 2018, and 20 per cent in Wainuiomata
- The public housing waiting list increased 85 per cent between June 2017 and June 2018 – one of the biggest increases in the country
- The number of emergency housing special needs grants, issued by the Ministry of Social Development, that pay for people to stay in emergency housing such as motels or hotels has increased every successive quarter this year
- Fifty-five per cent of emergency accommodation funding spent in the Wellington Region was paid out to Lower Hutt households in the September quarter.
The underlying causes of homelessness are structural – poverty, a lack of affordable housing, inequality and government policy. A person or family’s individual circumstances, that can make them more susceptible to becoming homeless, include poor physical or mental health, inadequate income and financial problems, relationship breakdown or family violence, and alcohol or drug abuse. Age is also a factor, with young people being particularly vulnerable to homelessness.
All it can take to push a family out of their homes is a redundancy, unexpected costs, a relationship breakdown or a period of illness.
What has Council done so far?
Council staff completed research into homelessness in Lower Hutt in April 2018. This included engaging with people with a lived experience of homelessness, social service agencies working with the homeless people, as well as a range of other partners.
View the homelessness research paper (PDF 2.3 Mb)
Later in the year, Council undertook a second round of engagement with social service agencies and people with a lived experience of homelessness.
The resulting report and its recommendations were approved by the Council Policy and Regulatory Committee on 26 November 2018 and at a full Council meeting on 11 December 2018.
View the homelessness strategy report (PDF 412 Kb)
What happens next?
Council officers are working with its partners to develop actions and options for Council to contribute to the response to homelessness. These will be considered at a Policy and Regulatory Committee meeting in April 2019.
While Council is already working on initiatives that address housing affordability, it will also begin work on a longer-term housing strategy in early 2019.
For further information, please contact:
John Pritchard - Principal Research and Policy Advisor
T: 04 570 6838