Do people really choose to be homeless?


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Photo Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões – Portugal

Many people believe that people choose to be homeless in New Zealand. People wonder what excuse could there possibly be for sleeping rough in the city when we have a welfare system?

Lifewise, Auckland City Council and the Auckland City Mission have just released the findings of a research project that interviewed people sleeping rough in Auckland’s city centre to find out how exactly they got to where they are today. Is being homeless a choice? Or is there more to it?

Many of the 26 people sleeping or previously sleeping rough said that it was their choice to sleep rough. But when we asked them to tell us how they ended up on the streets, their stories painted a different picture.
Contrary to the common idea that homeless people are all older men, half of NZ’s homeless are under 25. Often young people end up on the streets because they have had no other options after foster care ends on their 17th birthday – and unlike most of us, these young people can’t just call up Mum or Dad if they fall on hard times.

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Many people who are now sleeping rough have fled homes where family violence and sexual abuse are the norm. For others, family breakdown leaves people with no natural support system.

When faced with the choice between domestic abuse at home and taking their chances on the streets, some women see rough sleeping as the safer option. For men, job loss and eviction from housing are major factors for ending up on the city streets. Mental health and addiction issues are also a big part of the picture.

When you’re homeless, your private life becomes your public life – public spaces are literally your bedroom. You’re sleep deprived because you have to stay awake at night to stay safe. Everything you own you have to carry with you at all times, or you run the risk of it being stolen from your latest ‘safe’ place to store things.

And eventually, most passersby don’t even look at you – you just become a part of the streets’ scenery.

What many people don’t see is that those sleeping rough on our streets deal with great adversity and are doing everything possible they can to survive. They are faced with extraordinary challenges that most of us would never be able to cope with.

I would strongly encourage you to read our report and hear from rough sleepers themselves what it’s like to live on NZ’s city: An insight into the experience of rough sleeping in central Auckland.
Do you think homelessness in NZ is a choice? We want to hear what you think – follow Lifewise on Facebook.


By Moira Lawler, Lifewise General Manager


  1. Those ‘people’ that regard homelessness as a choice, probably also regard cancer as a choice or job loss as a choice. Who are these people???? Would they take a relative or friend in that had no where to stay? I bloody would and i bloody have! I know alot of family and friends have also. To get welfare you need an address, to get an address you need money or someone willing to take you in, then the inevitable standdown from winz, then they have to attend interviews, seminars and whatever else takes winz fancy, all while receiving nothing. It is draining, mindnumbing stupidity to expect someone with no financial assistance to attend these. More often than not you wake up to find the relative or friend gone.

  2. What kind of small minded ignorant stupid idiot would seriously believe that to be homeless is a true choice???

    Has 30 plus years of neo liberal ideology so infected our thinking and damaged our sense of empathy and community that people truly believe that??

    I’d like to see anyone making such a stupid statement spend a week sleeping on the streets in Auckland. They’ll soon find out how dangerous, cold, unsanitary and uncomfortable it is. Then lets see if they still regard those around them as “choosing” to be homeless.


  3. Adding to the challenges: the scarcity and disgusting state of public toilets/wash rooms. No public lockers for stashing personal baggage. Very few laundromats. Unaffordable public transport. Very little shelter in winter and few safe places for after dark.

    Overseas, at least in Europe and America-Canada you can ‘count on’ being able to access most, or all of these as a traveller or someone down on their luck.


  4. I am having trouble opening this link: city: An insight into the experience of rough sleeping in central Auckland.

    However great work anyway, in caring and helping the vulnerable people in our society. Awesome. Keep it up. Cheers

  5. Chris Hedges . Pulitzer prize-winning journalist . And perhaps, according to jonky, who described Glen Greenwald similarly as another lefty loser .

    “Those who fail to exhibit positive attitudes, no matter the external reality, are seen as maladjusted and in need of assistance. Their attitudes need correction. Once we adopt an upbeat vision of reality, positive things will happen. This belief encourages us to flee from reality when reality does not elicit positive feelings. These specialists in “happiness” have formulated something they call the “Law of Attraction.” It argues that we attract those things in life, whether it is money, relationships or employment, which we focus on. Suddenly, abused and battered wives or children, the unemployed, the depressed and mentally ill, the illiterate, the lonely, those grieving for lost loved ones, those crushed by poverty, the terminally ill, those fighting with addictions, those suffering from trauma, those trapped in menial and poorly paid jobs, those whose homes are in foreclosure or who are filing for bankruptcy because they cannot pay their medical bills, are to blame for their negativity. The ideology justifies the cruelty of unfettered capitalism, shifting the blame from the power elite to those they oppress. And many of us have internalised this pernicious message, which in times of difficulty leads to personal despair, passivity and disillusionment.”

    ― Chris Hedges

    • Great comment, Countryboy, I had a lot to say, but this stupid computer I use did stuff up a comment I wrote, so it is all lost again. Stuff all this crap, kick back, hit back, and destroy the Social Darwinism Fascists.

  6. My experience of homeless people is very very limited. I do know of one individual who didn’t choose to be but was unable to live with whanau because of drug addiction, leading to theft to feed his habit, bad behavior,
    mental issues and violence. Eventually he had to leave and went on the street of the city. This happened a number of times. He had any number of whanau who could have taken him in but after the above no one could. He was a threat to their safety. Homelessness in our larger cities is growing. I don’t say that all these people are like the one I have described and some will in fact not be as lucky to have whanau to take them in.

  7. Living in Auckland, supposedly “the most liveable city” in the world, I see more and more homeless and also beggars around the place. Len Brown and John Key must both be pleased, as they are catching up with other cities around the world, where homelessness has been an issue for many more years than here. I have lived in Europe and seen it in every larger city there, and it is sad, sad, very sad.

    But in Europe it is nowhere near as bad as in India, Egypt or other less developed countries, where I have also been.

    If that is supposed to be the price we pay, to be counted with the large cities on a global scale, to have the same number of poor, homeless and begging people, then we need to rethink, first of all need to feel ashamed.

    Len Brown with his Super City Plans makes me sick now. It is all about “growth”, “growth” and more “growth”, economic and population wise. With that come the many that fall through the net, and cannot keep up with the competitive, “modern” urban society Len and others have planned. No, I do not want to live in a city, that is “catching up” with other mega cities, also with increased social division and homelessness.

    What about making Auckland and New Zealand a truly leading “quality place”, that is different to the many failed societies we seem to be wanting to join in the statistics?

    In New Zealand nobody should be homeless, and it is only a “choice” for some, because the existing tenancy rules and market situation does not provide for those that have difficulty to adapt to living in standardised shoe box apartments, in strict, reglemented, inhumane and socially “cold” conditions.

    Surely we can offer homes for those with issues like drugs and alcohol, and offer them some freedoms not offered in standard tenancy agreements, why are the up themselves bureaucrats in their ivory towers not opening their minds to let some good, sound ideas surface and get realised?

  8. No residential address equals no bank account. No bank account equals no benefit of any kind. No money equals no home. Homelessness is not a choice. It is a result of a don’t care society who choose to ignore the problems faced by very poor people. A caring society would assist people to solve the problems they face which cause the homelessness.

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