The report on homelessness shows the problem is getting worse.
. . .Co-author Alan Johnson says the data shows how far behind we are when it comes to building homes.
“The current position around homelessness and people with temporary and unsatisfactory housing is that it appears to have got gradually worse.
“In terms of the population growth we’ve seen in New Zealand and particularly in Auckland over the last three years, we just haven’t built enough houses to accommodate that growth.
“That’s one of the biggest causes of what we’re seeing now literally on the streets of New Zealand.
“Part of the problem, then, is that it will take some time to resolve that.”
The report considers homelessness, the rental market, housing affordability and housing supply around the country, with an in-depth focus on Auckland. . .
What the report doesn’t consider is two of the causes of the problem – family dysfunction and community living for the mentally ill.
When a marriage or relationship breaks up a family which lived in one house then needs two.
Relationship breakdowns happen for many reasons. When there are irreconcilable differences and/or problems such as violence and addiction a break up can be the only solution and children can be better with two parents living happily separately than unhappily together.
But no matter how justifiable a break-up is, a family needing two homes contributes to the housing shortage.
Then there are young people whose parent or parents can’t, or won’t, have them at home.
The reasons for that can be complex too but whatever they are, the result is too often young people with no family home to go to and without resources to make one of their own.
Another contributor to homelessness is deinstitutionalisation of people with mental illnesses . In writing about the mental health inquiry Karl du Fresne says:
. . .My prediction is that activists will do their best to ensure that the inquiry focuses on the supposed “drivers” of mental illness. These will include poverty, racism, colonisation, homelessness and homophobia. In other words, they will want to make it all about victims.
No one will want to talk about the virtues of the old “asylums”, because the word is deeply unfashionable. But they were given that name for a reason. An asylum is a place that provides sanctuary. That’s why we talk about political prisoners seeking asylum and asylum-seekers who have fled from unsafe countries.
An asylum was a place where the mentally ill were guaranteed a warm bed, three meals a day, medical care and company, if they wanted it. There were nurses to ensure they took their medication. It wasn’t an ideal existence, but it was safe and secure.
In the 1980s, however, mental health professionals decided the system was inhumane. Hospitalisation was little better than imprisonment, they argued. The mentally ill were entitled like everyone else to live independently and autonomously.
Wrapped in the warm embrace of that amorphous thing called the community, they would be liberated to fulfil their true potential as human beings.
It didn’t seem to matter if they were incapable of cooking, shopping, managing their finances, holding down a job, washing their clothes or showering. And so they ended up living in squalid flats, boarding houses and caravan parks where there was no one to ensure they took their meds. At best, a nurse or mental health worker might check on them occasionally.
It was an ideologically driven change, but the government bean-counters and deconstructionists liked it because it meant the closure of all those big, expensive old institutions.
Doubtless this bold experiment worked for some people, but its negative consequences can be seen in frequent heart-breaking newspaper reports about acutely ill patients living in the community who have committed murder or suicide. . .
Institutions weren’t perfect. People who with the right help are living much better lives in the community are better off without them.
But some people can’t cope in the community and far too many of them are homeless because of that.
Homelessness is a driver of mental illness and the reverse is also true – mental health is a driver of homelessness so is family dysfunction.
They are the elephants in the homeless room and neither will be solved by building more houses.