Homelessness – What can the Mayor do?



In many cities that are ending chronic homelessness there is a common factor: strong Mayoral leadership in bringing together communities, service providers, government and social agencies. What Auckland needs is a housing strategy and a Mayor who is audacious enough to develop one. We say audacious because the Mayor has to acknowledge that some tough decisions need to be made. And some imaginative thinking is in order too, as Council needs to grapple courageously with what government will and won’t do.

We see this as a fitting challenge for the new Mayor of Auckland. With that in mind, Lifewise held a special briefing at Merge Café, where the Housing First Project was presented to a number of Auckland mayoral candidates.

We were very pleased by the interest shown and the questions raised. One of these raised more questions in my mind: When does the Housing First process stop? The short answer is it does not have to stop. For the long answer, let’s understand what Housing First involves.

The process, as it were, begins when a homeless person decides they want a home. Ideally, they also decide the type and location of their home and also whether and who they want to live with. Any support or wrap-around services they need are put in place by collaboration amongst service providers, social agencies, and government. These services may include mental health and alcohol and drug treatment, or day-to-day budgeting of household expenses. The wrap-around services continue for as long as the person needs them. And even afterwards, these services remain available. This is why the Housing First process does not have to stop.

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We know that all this costs money, which is why we want homelessness to end, for wrap-around services to become unnecessary. But how can that happen unless wider issues related to homelessness are addressed: poverty, disconnection from family and whanau supports, and inequality, for example. Can we ensure job security; a regular, liveable income? Can we protect our most vulnerable Kiwis from losing their home? Can we build strong supportive communities so more people can feel like they belong, like they also matter?

With 41,000 homeless New Zealanders at last count, it’s no secret that this problem has reached countrywide proportions. Meanwhile here in Auckland, over 20,000 people are homeless: That’s 49% of the nation’s total. We have among the highest prevalence of homelessness — 14 people per every 1000 Aucklanders experience homelessness.

Addressing these numbers with policy decisions and funding budgets for building more homes are on the central government’s to-do list. However, it is up to the Mayor to listen closely to the people of their city, understand what they need, and bring together the services and support to help them.

Social agencies like Lifewise always welcome government support, be it via funding to keep our services going or through the expertise that a collaborative venture like Housing First requires. However, without a housing strategy for putting solutions into practice and measuring the results, we risk disappointment.

Our goal of ending chronic homelessness is indeed ambitious – some might say, audacious, too – but this goal is not impossible. It’s going to need a concerted effort and sustained focus, over longer than just one Mayor’s term in office. And that can be the legacy they leave behind.


  1. There is a 11 story building right next to Aotea Square that could used. Its sitting empty. It does need a little work & has asbestos issues but. These things can be remedied. A rate payers asset been wasted …. Could be a social services centre, Health, temp accomodation, WINZ/MSD – right in the city centre…

    • Too late Takere pull the benefit already brought us (the tax payers) a motel to house the homeless. What happened to the market providing?

  2. As long as the candidates are pushing for real, permanent and integrated housing solutions I will listen. ‘Tiny’ houses, and shipping containers are cute when you put them in the wooded area behind the parents batch, but they are not an answer for families and individuals who just want a normal dignified a place in society.

  3. Well the National government aren’t going to end it because they barely acknowledge that it is even a problem, and then they deny that it is their policies that are to blame.
    So perhaps it is down to local government to do the central government’s work (again) because spending money to help those without simply does not fit this government’s neo-liberal cause.

  4. Any Mayor will soon enough be lobbied and massaged by this crowd:

    Nothing much happens in Auckland without consulting them and listening to their vested business interests.

    So perhaps we will achieve more “alms giving” gestures by a new Mayor and Council, not much more or else.

    Business is what runs and dominates Auckland, and in order to get the scruffy rough sleepers away from their Queen St entrances, some may agree, to set up more homes for the poor and so, little else.

    And in the end, much of what Auckland can or must do is constrained what Central Government does. If they think there is no crisis and that all is more or less ok, that will be the way they will leave it.

    I fear few ratepayers will sign up to spend more on rates for helping those who cannot afford housing.

    Housing NZ loves much of the Unitary Plan and will also put those in need in new multi storey apartment blocks, made cheaply, with no garden, and little else for residents to enjoy, they will be condemned to small units, to watching TV all day.

    We are screwed with the status quo, and the elections will not bring any change, that is if Goff, Crone or Palino win, it will be more of the same, or even worse.

    So I am philosophical about this post, good intentions there may be, but what does it matter when nobody is really that committed, but in words and no more.

  5. “unless wider issues related to homelessness are addressed:”

    Can you answer your own list of ‘can we’ questions?

    Transport costs. Education for children and others, with small enough classes, high enough expectations, and resources enough to get the battered and unconfident back to engaging.

    High costs for electricity, fuel, water – using to technologies to mitigate and offset.

    Rapid response to basic repair problems with power and plumbing so people aren’t living with candles and buckets for weeks until someone turns up to do a decent job at a rate they can afford to pay.

    Enough capacity in the health and counselling services to deal with the complex and enduring problems some homeless folk have.

    Putting people who are lonely, different, sometimes ‘odd’, into a community that has enough ‘home in the day’ people to see them and say ‘G’day. How’s it going? Do you need at a hand with that?’

    A big enough mix of people who either know through their own experiences, or have heart enough, to simply ‘see’ the people who have fresh-come to their community and make them part of the week. And to somehow protect the kind-hearted folk from the small scatter of nasty parasites who are absolutely to be found in such situations.

    To have a mentor and buddy for the awkward who can smooth over differences and build the interfaces between scared suspicious people on both sides of the walls or fences. Long haul buddies, more than one-off helping hands.

    Can we…?

  6. The housing problem in Auckland could be ended tomorrow and at little to no cost to the council.

    There are over 20,000 empty houses in Auckland.


    Mayoral candidate Vic Crone has floated the idea that people with more than one house and who keeps it empty for no good reason should be charged a punitive a punitive amount to discourage them from this practice.

    Vic Crone suggested that this practice could be easily detected from a property’s water usage.


    Rival Mayoral candidate Phil Goff attacked Vic Crone’s idea because it would penalise rich people (like him) who keep extra properties for their holidays.


    New flash for Phil Goff; if a house is connected to the Auckland town supply, and is not inhabited it is not a holiday home, it is a spare empty house. A spare empty house that could house a family.

    Instead of taking over this policy for the Left and running with it. Phil Goff has championed the cause of those with more than one house, or houses, who keeps them empty.

    What can a Mayor do about homelessness?

    Lots, that is if they were actually concerned about the issue.

  7. that would be that issue that both len brown and celia wade-brown – in their first elections campaigns (only – they were silent after that) –

    – that was the one both of them promised to fix..eh..?

  8. Now I know that Skycity is constantly on the “take, take,take” approach to many things e.g getting the NZ taxpayers to pay for a convention centre that probably hardly anyone poor(like low income NZ taxpayers)wil ever be able to go into let alone use but I would so love it if Skycity did abit of giving for once in their greed ridden life-time. For example at the Skycity Hotel how many rooms in that very hotel are occupied? Probably only a few(except when National are in town or Key needs to bask in the glory of the rich at Skycity after an election)are used.
    And so it is likely the Skycity Hotel has many empty rooms that could be provided for free to the homeless.
    But I doubt Skycity would do this as it would be too below their station and the element of snobbery runs through the veins of the wealthy i.e not in my hotel….
    And so if in the event of a disaster in Auckland would Skycity ever open their doors and rooms to help Aucklanders? I doubt it very much.
    And so we will be seeing over $345million(almost the equivalent of a Bill English ‘Budget” surplus and about the same amount that a Chinese gambler spent at the Skycity Casino over a period of time)being spent on a ‘convention centre’ that could also provide accommodation for the homeless.
    Another observation I have made is the huge buildings for say the City Impact Church. These huge buildings could provide accommodation for the homeless but again there is probably that very element of snobbery even amongst the religious.
    And so it appears the bigger the buildings to fit the egos of the organisatons involced e.g Skycity and the City Impact Church; the less likely we would ever see these two organisations caring about others.
    Skycity ONLY want people through its doors to part with money. The same could well apply to the aforementioned church. Donations whether they be into a political party like say the National Party or into a church coffers shows that the poor become the forgotten ones.

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