Regional | Whangarei

Whangārei District Council says no to homeless shelter proposal in the city

Fears are mounting for Whangārei’s rough sleepers as hopes for a night shelter before winter comes have been dashed.

Homeless advocate Carrie Kake - who was behind the concept for the city’s day shelter, Open Arms - was told by the Whangārei District Council that a shelter at the former Old Boys’ Rugby and Sports Club on Port Road was off the cards.

The council says the proposal put forward for the site, which it owns, was lacking but also providing a shelter is not council’s role.

However, WDC Planning and development general manager Dominic Kula said council remained committed to finding sustainable solutions in collaboration with the relevant and necessary agencies.

“We have not spoken for or against such a facility being set up in our district.”

Kake spoke of suicide attempts among the homeless while laying out her concerns about their welfare if a solution wasn’t found.

“We’re going to lose more if we don’t get this shelter.”

Kake and rough sleeper Jason Poutai have, with the Kotahitanga Whakaruruhau Trust, been pressing the council to help find a suitable location for an overnight haven for close to 10 months, although, the mission has been life-long for Kake.

She was dismayed to learn a night shelter would not go ahead due to safety concerns that stemmed from a previous one reportedly set up in Whangārei. Kake said those concerns had related to sexual assaults and violence against women.

But council has no knowledge of a previous shelter nor any discussion where the views mentioned by Kake were expressed, Kula said.

Kake was frustrated by the rejection as she thought progress was being made on the homeless permanently relocating to the Port Rd site with plans for it to transform into a night shelter.

But the council said the proposal put forward by the trust for a shelter there lacked detail, specifically around funding and support from government agencies.

The council spoke to the relevant agencies which confirmed little engagement with the trust.

Kula stated the proposal was not funded.

In order for the council to consider a proposal involving land it owns there needed to be involvement from and engagement with relevant agencies, he explained.

" ... We have highlighted the need for a sustainable solution with wrap around services and security funded by agencies responsible for responding to homelessness if council land is to be considered.”

Kake accused the council of letting rough sleepers camp at the unused site so they were out of view of visiting cruise ship passengers. She believed council would soon swoop in and demand they vacate the area.

But council did not move rough sleepers to the site, Kula said.

“We have made no plans to ask the rough sleepers to leave old boys’ at this time.”

Poutai said currently five people were camped at old boys’.

“There’s been more people up there but because we haven’t got the facilities they’ve come back into town. They’re all under the bridges and back in around the bushes.”

Kula said it would continue to provide any support, advice and potentially land that could facilitate the central government’s provision of emergency and transitional housing and shelters.

Poutai said a solution needed to be found before winter as the set-ups rough sleepers had constructed wouldn’t last.

Kula said the council acknowledged the complexity of the issues surrounding homelessness and the impact they had on the community. It had been working with multiple agencies - such as the Ministry of Social Development, Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Arataki Ministries, 155 Whare Āwhina, and the police - to look for answers.

“We are committed to working alongside government agencies to find sustainable solutions to the challenges facing our community,” Kula said.

Kake said the stumbling block meant they had to rely on a private pathway to get a night shelter.

“This is not going to go away. There are more people out there in need.”

Northland was one of the five regions to record the highest increase in demand for public housing during the December quarter when compared to December 2022. As of December, there were 1235 applicants on the housing register - 149 more than the same time in 2022.

Children as young as 6, men in their 80′s, people with cancer living in their cars, families with single parents are our homeless, Kake said.

“Now they’re fighting for spaces under the bridges, that’s telling you how hard it is. This is growing.”

- NZ Herald