8 Sep 2016

Call to house Wellington homeless in spare rooms

7:40 pm on 8 September 2016

One of Wellington's mayoral candidates wants to help people make their spare rooms available to those in the city without homes of their own.

Mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan says her top priority is to improve Wellington's infrastructure.

Mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan says her top priority is improving Wellington's infrastructure. Photo: Supplied

Jo Coughlan said she would consider putting up a person who was homeless in her own spare room if it would help.

Her suggestion came as the Wellington City Council received an update on its strategies to approach homelessness and begging.

"Wouldn't it be amazing if interested citizens could perhaps sign up to host a homeless person, particularly a person in transition," Ms Coughlan said.

"Often they only require some help for a short period of time and I think a lot of Wellingtonians are very caring and compassionate people - they want to be inclusive and they want to help but they don't always know how."

Ms Coughlan said she was not sure of the details, but suggested using social media or an app to "host the homeless".

She suggested she would be willing to show people how it was done.

"Potentially, yeah, depending on what the circumstances are, I would consider [it]," she said.

"There's all sorts of different cases ... if someone's just requiring some support for a few days, that might be appropriate. That might be something that would suit someone."

Although the council has been working on a homelessness strategy since 2003 the problem has only grown - about 50 to 55 people sleep rough in Wellington most days, and another 35 beg.

The council's latest strategy, Te Mahana, has the ambitious goal of ending street homelessness by 2018.

While all councillors were pleased by the work being done in the city, it was clear they felt more could be done.

Another mayoral candidate, Nicola Young, suggested empty apartment blocks owned by the New Zealand Transport Agency for widening State Highway 1 toward the airport could be used.

"There are two blocks of apartments [the agency] has bought in preparation for one day widening the road," the councillor said.

"In the meantime, those apartments are just sitting there empty.

"Couldn't we work with them ... it's something like 32 apartments all up."

Council officer Simon Tendeter agreed and said it would be a good idea to do an audit of the city's unoccupied houses.

Another councillor, Sarah Free, asked whether passers-by had a different opinion on buskers to beggars.

"Do you think the public receive the person on the street better if they perceive that they're actually there for that kind of activity [busking], rather than just sitting there with a placard rather than with their head down and a dish out the front," she said.

"Part of the reason I raised it is because somebody asked 'can't the council give them something to do like shining shoes for a gold coin donation'."

Some councillors expressed their disappointment the council's homelessness strategies were having to fill a gap left by central government.

Labour candidate Paul Eagle said, "This is a central government role, don't abdicate your responsibility."

"That was the key message we were trying to get across," he said.

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