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Nelson is living up to the true meaning of Christmas this week with the launch of the “Housing First” programme to assist those sleeping rough and homeless. The initiative is being led by the Salvation Army with Te Piki Oranga, the Male Room and the Gateway Housing Trust with support from Government.

We have always had the odd rough diamond sleeping rough. I have dealt with dozens of cases over the years. Those sleeping rough are predominantly men in their older years with significant alcohol, drug or mental health problems. Most are isolated from their own families and on welfare benefits. Some are like Lewis Stanton with a cause. Some are real characters. Most are lost souls. We need to do better for them. Homelessness badly affects their health and compounds their other problems.

The origin of Housing First is the United States. Its core philosophy is that getting these people into stable housing is the top priority. It rightly believes that you cannot address the other complex issues these people may have in their lives with addiction, health, employment or family alienation if they do not have a roof over the head and a place to call home.   

I came across the “Housing First” approach as Minister in the last government when looking for innovative new housing programmes. We provided funding to trial it where homelessness was most acute, firstly in Hamilton with the Wise Group and then in Auckland with the City Mission. These were successful and got over 1,000 people off the streets and into permanent housing.

I was pleased in May 2018 when the new government announced in its first Budget an expansion of the Housing First programme to Nelson. I have been frustrated with the 18 months of subsequent delays and have been lobbying to make it happen. I am delighted this week the programme gets underway.

There is no single magic bullet to Nelson’s housing problems.  We need to build more homes by freeing up more land, constructing associated infrastructure, training more builders and reducing the bureaucracy of building and resource consents.

We need to expand support of first home buyers like the Home Start grants. We need to be careful that excessive rental regulation does not drive up rents or switch homes into Airbnbs.  We need to grow the number of social homes available with the Nelson Tasman Housing Trust, Housing NZ and Habitat for Humanity.

I salute our local Salvation Army and its partners for picking up Housing First here in Nelson. I also acknowledge our Night Shelter, St Vincent de Paul, Loaves and Fishes, Kai with Love and many others who have worked for years in supporting our homeless. The volunteers and donors who give of their time and money for these organisations are modern day angels.

Homelessness was part of the Christmas story for Joseph and Mary. My hope for Nelson’s new Housing First programme is meaningful help that improves the lives of some of our poorest and most vulnerable.

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