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By Marjorie Spittle in All Sorts

how Christian compassion can generate creative ways to provide shelter for homeless people

Recently, two items on homelessness in two New Zealand cities, Rotorua and Manukau city, appeared on the TV news on the same evening. It was thought-provoking to hear how the problem was being dealt with in each case.
The report from Rotorua revealed that a shelter for homeless people was to be shut down because it had opened without the proper consents being obtained and the person in charge was warned that he would be liable for a $200,000 fine if he kept it open and allowed people to sleep in it. Previously the building had been deemed unsafe and, while the homeless were permitted to use the building as a shelter, they were not allowed to sleep there in case there was a fire or another emergency. Incredibly, security guards were employed to go around and wake people up throughout the night! While a Council needs to have some regulations to protect its citizens, it was disappointing that the Rotorua Council did not find a solution other than that of returning the homeless to the streets.
The other report, from Manukau City, described how a large modern busy bus station, which was empty overnight, was to be opened for a number of homeless persons overnight, from 10 pm until 7 am. Mattresses would be supplied and the Salvation Army would assist with supervision and the provision of breakfast.
One could also consider whether legislation on building requirements following the earthquakes has made it unnecessarily difficult for people to obtain cheaper accommodation. There are several older buildings in Dunedin where cheap rooms could be rented but the owners are unable to let them because they do not meet the safety requirements. An obvious question might be: Is a person more likely to die through a building collapsing in an earthquake or through becoming ill sleeping rough in the middle of winter? Would a change in legislation to allow people to sign a waiver, indicating that they understand that they enter the building at their own risk, help them to access affordable accommodation?
The number of people sleeping in cars or in the outdoors is growing and the situation is a concern right here in Dunedin. The Night Shelter, which now admits women as well as men, is the only emergency accommodation in the city. The Manager recently wrote: “Our clients are leaving here to live in cars, moving to other towns in the hope of finding accommodation or going back on the streets.”
The compassion of a society could be measured in the way it cares for its most vulnerable members. We need more creative and sensible ways of providing shelter, one of the most basic of human needs, for a growing number of people in our city and our country. Ultimately, it is to be hoped all will be adequately housed but, in the meantime, maybe there could be a more practical emergency provision available, linking up the homeless and empty buildings as is being done in Manukau City.
Marjorie Spittle