World Day for Homeless Persons

Written by Bishop Pat Dunn, Bishop of Auckland and Secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

We all need a place to call home. A home is more than just shelter, more than walls and a roof. It also includes the security of knowing it is somewhere you belong. However, in New Zealand, it is very concerning that a number of New Zealanders don’t even have the security of permanent shelter.

Today (10 October) is World Homeless Day Among our Catholic and wider community, there are many groups and individuals that work to respond to people without secure housing.

The most public face of homelessness – those who “sleep rough” is only the tip of the iceberg. Many other New Zealanders live in precarious situations which are less visible. This includes families who put their tenancies and their health at risk to take in other families in overcrowded homes. It includes people living in garages, caravans and other makeshift accommodation.

The University of Otago last year estimated that 34,000 New Zealanders, or one in every 120 people in this country, were unable to access housing in the 2006 census. Since that time we have had the Christchurch earthquakes and the housing situation in Auckland has become much more acute.

Catholic groups working at the recent Mangere benefit impact reported that many of the families who asked for assistance with Work and Income were living in overcrowded conditions. This had impacts for the whole family – poor sleep, quick transmission of infectious diseases, difficulty with hygiene, and personal conflicts that arise inevitably when people can’t get space from each other. There were also hints of parents’ despair over being unable to prevent inappropriate bed-sharing arrangements, such as teenage children of different sexes left with little choice but to share bedrooms and in some cases even beds.

Housing is currently a key concern of the incoming government. Without a doubt, it must be dealt with at many levels. Local government, communities, landlords, churches – we all have a part to play. There are necessary conversations to have about increasing involvement of the community sector in meeting housing needs, and about making changes at every level to enable more affordable housing to be built.

But we also need central government to continue to focus on delivering the fundamental human right to housing, which has so much been a part of our country’s history. Many of us who are adults in New Zealand grew up in housing that was dry and warm. We had somewhere to play, we had quiet place to study. We could rely on accessing a bathroom to wash each morning. We had our own bed to sleep in. It is a matter of shame that this is not the reality for every child now living in New Zealand.

In my Diocese, the Glen Eden parish has responded to housing need through establishing a project in Tahi Terrace where a portion of the rent a family pays is put aside to assist them towards home ownership. Others are involved through the Monte Cecilia Trust and De Paul House in assisting people requiring emergency housing. Others, such as the Sisters of Mercy in Wiri, are engaged with advocating for people’s housing needs with government departments.

On World Homeless Day, let us each take a moment to become more fully aware of the housing crisis affecting many New Zealanders. May we each take a moment to hold these people in our hearts in prayer, and to take that concern with us into our daily lives. There is something that each of us can do once our eyes are opened to this reality.