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Increase in homeless numbers in Masterton

Factors including the increased cost of renting have led to an increase in homelessness and hunger in Masterton since Christmas.

Wairarapa Community Centre coordinator Beverley Jack said she has seen an increase in the number of homeless people making use of the centre’s meal service.

On Christmas Day, the Community Kitchen service of the Food Resilience Wairarapa Programme provided 20 meals for homeless whānau; since then, those numbers have increased to 30 meals on Wednesdays, and 20 meals on Fridays.

Jack said that not only are people not able to afford to feed themselves, but they are also unable to find accommodation.

“We don’t have anywhere for them to sleep.”

Jack attributed rising homelessness to a combination of factors but said high rental costs have had a huge impact.

Jack recalled that, up to 20 years ago, the area had two landlords who owned older villas that were divided into flats with cheaper rent.

She said that while it wasn’t good housing, it was what people could afford and gave them somewhere to live.

After the government’s Healthy Homes Standards were passed in 2019, Jack noticed that such landlords sold their properties because they couldn’t afford the upgrades required to meet the new standards.

“The minute that happened, houses were sold. That’s when we saw rents go up,” she said, noting that this coincided with an observable increase in people coming in for services such as free meals.

Jack added that there isn’t enough emergency housing in Masterton for the growing number of homeless people, and she is worried they won’t have anywhere to sleep in winter.

Most of the homeless people in Masterton are men because women have more services available to them, she said.

Some people sleeping rough have been through a relationship break-up, but while the women may have found temporary accommodation, men often had nowhere to go.

Drug and alcohol addiction problems are another factor that complicates finding housing for people.

If people are on the Ministry for Social Development [MSD] housing register, they can access transition housing and other linked services, Jack said, but people with drug and alcohol addiction problems had more difficulty finding emergency housing.

If they get into transition housing such as motels, they can get kicked out for using drugs and alcohol.

Substance abuse is also a contributing factor to people ending up on the street and has “a roll-on effect,” Jack said, with job losses and the increased cost of living also putting more pressure on relationships and family life.

“That’s why these wrap-around services are needed.”

That said, people need to be ready to accept help.

Addiction services like Pathways Masterton and Te Rau Ora reflect the support for vulnerable residents, and many community members want to help those in need but don’t know how or feel scared to approach people directly, so they give indirectly through their time, Jack said – “It’s a very generous community.”

The Wairarapa Community Centre Trust [WCCT] community kitchen programme – one of three services in WCCT’s community food resilience programme – has more than 100 volunteers cooking meals to serve people in need.

Kim’s Way, a night shelter being built on Bannister Street, will provide hot meals, a shower, and a place to sleep for the night for people who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when it is completed.

It is estimated the shelter will be open mid-year.

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