23 May 2016

Pilot project for homeless in Chch hopes to expand

8:45 am on 23 May 2016

When a group of six Christchurch homeless people were first moved into their own home, with a bedroom each and a pantry full of food - their supporters from Youth Cultural Development turned up the next day to find them all sleeping in the lounge and all the food gone.

The state house in Bryndwr, Christchurch, in which John Key was raised.

Six houses have been rented under a pilot project (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

Anni Watkin, the general manager of Youth Cultural Development, known as YCD, said after a couple of years of living together in garages and abandoned buildings, the group of young people didn't want to sleep alone. They also were used to eating all the food at once, just in case tomorrow they got nothing.

The group are living in one of six houses which have been rented under a pilot project, being run in conjunction with the Christchurch City Council, Youth Cultural Development and the Methodist Mission.

The Christchurch City Council provided $130,000 to the Methodist Mission to underwrite the leases on private rentals for homeless people, who weren't able to secure the rentals themselves.

The mission takes on the lease, and the tenants pay rent, but the mission has committed to the landlord to pay any missed rent, and repair any damage.

Transition to a house 'not easy'

The project has not all been smooth sailing.

Christchurch youth service, Youth Cultural Development took on the role of working with the young people to provide support, and the mission has done this for the families.

Anni Watkin from Youth Cultural Development said for the young people the transition from living in abandoned buildings to managing a home hasn't been easy.

She said at times the homes have been chaotic, and the young people have had to be taught basics like the need to clean up after themselves, how to be considerate of neighbours, and how to portion out food to last a week.

"They weren't accustomed to responsibility and routine, and being considerate of others, so there was a lot of learning."

She said most of the young people had no income, and had no hope of getting a rental on their own.

Ms Watkin said the YCD youth workers helped the young people sign up for unemployment benefits, and to start addressing some of their negative behaviours with daily visits.

"They were living off stealing, begging, prostitution... We supported to them to address synthetic (cannabis) and drug abuse issues, and some of the barriers which were stopping them from moving forward positively."

Families needed less support when in stable home

Methodist Mission director Jill Hawkey said the four families have needed far less intensive support once they were in a stable home.

Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey.

Jill Hawkey Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

She said for the families it had largely been an advocacy role.

"What we've found with the families we've worked with, is often they had a poor credit history, so landlords didn't want to rent to them. They may have had arrears for various reasons.

"And sometime it's that they may have mental health issues, or just a lack of confidence so they are unable to really go out there and advocate for themselves."

Finding landlords who were willing to rent to homeless people was also a huge struggle, and Jill Hawkey rang at least 40 before she found someone who would take them on.

The project was sparked by a suggestion from Christchurch deputy mayor Vicki Buck.

Vicki Buck said the project would continue for at least another 12 months on the initial funding of $130,000, but she would like to see it expand.

She said she would love the project to develop to owning its own properties.

This is also something that the Methodist Mission would also like to see, and with that aim it will be approaching the Ministry of Social Development, the council and a range of charitable organisations to see if that can be the next step for the project.

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