Homeless wintry dreary nights are a National shame

Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Election campaign billboards are up across the country, indicating that we are less than two months away from a General Election.

Early voting starts on September 11 and the country will elect a new Government on September 23, 2017.

This year I am Labour’s candidate for the marginal seat of Maungakiekie.

The Maungakiekie electorate includes the suburbs of Onehunga, parts of One Tree Hill and Greenlane, Ellerslie, Penrose, Mt Wellington, Tamaki, Panmure and a part of Point England. It is a large, diverse electorate. Approximately 25% of the population is Asian (about 10% of those are Indian) and 22% are Pasifika. About 36% of the Maungakiekie residents were born overseas.

During every conversation with my constituents, at their homes, offices, in public places or over the telephone, everyone brings up housing as the most important issue.

Renting hazards

Home ownership is the worst it has been in 60 years.

Many people my age struggle to buy their first home – unless they have financial help from their parents. Others are giving up on the idea of owning their own home in Auckland. Unfortunately, renting is still not a viable option in New Zealand as it is in some parts of Europe.

One-year rental contracts are standard in New Zealand. If a property is sold, existing tenants can be asked to leave with just 42 days’ notice. Finally, you cannot make changes to the property in New Zealand – this includes putting up pictures and painting the walls, unless you happen to have a very understanding owner.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the ‘Lifewise Big Sleepout.’

Along with about 100 leaders and influencers from some of Auckland’s biggest businesses and communities, I spent a night sleeping outdoors in the middle of winter to get a taste of life on the streets, and to raise critical funds to tackle homelessness.

I was incredibly grateful that at the end of that rather sleepless night, I could go home to a warm meal and my comfortable bed.

Not a choice

For 41,000 New Zealanders, sleeping rough is not a choice. The paths to homelessness are complex. Many who are homeless have mental health issues and cannot access the help they need. New Zealand ranks worst in the developed world for youth suicide. Since 2009, there has been 51% increase in total mental health callouts.

Housing affordability has reached a crisis point.

It is an issue for first homebuyers who cannot afford to buy homes to live.

It is an issue for renters as rents are increasing faster than income.

There is a growing group called ‘The Working Poor.’

The Bryan Perry Report on Inequality found that about 75,000 children are living in damp, mouldy and cold homes. About half the children living in such homes have at least one working parent.

Wasted time

This Government has had nine years to get it right.

Instead of fixing the problem, National sides with property speculators, has not built enough houses and focuses solely on looking after those at the top rather than families in the middle.

Instead of ensuring that those in need are supported, they sell-off state houses and spend $140,000 a day on motel accommodation for the homeless.

The housing crisis will cost the Government $50 million on motels and other “short-term measures” a year. Selling off homes that can house people and choosing to spend millions on motels indicates a distinct lack of vision.

In September this year, you have the choice to elect a government with a fresh approach. A Labour-led government will ensure that New Zealand’s economic growth actually translates to better lives for all New Zealanders; not just the millionaires at the top of the ladder.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is Labour Party’s candidate in the Maungakiekie constituency in the general election scheduled to be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017

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