10 Jul 2018

Auckland City Mission opens women-only night shelter

7:52 am on 10 July 2018

Women sleeping rough in Auckland will now have the option of a warm dry shelter over the winter months.

A bedroom in the new shelter

A bedroom in the new shelter Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

More than a week ago the Auckland City Mission opened its ten-bed night shelter for women, including trans-women, behind its main building on Hobson Street.

It is currently the city's only night shelter.

The faded two-storied villa was formerly the Mission's detox centre and it wears the marks of its past.

Skewed blinds and blue curtains cast an eerie light on the bedrooms that are empty by day.

But at night these rooms become warm, welcoming and, importantly, safe places for homeless women to rest.

The social services manager at the Mission, Helen Robinson, said it's a first in, first served set-up at the shelter, which also provides hot meals, showers, a laundry and lounges.

Donated blankets in the lounge

Donated blankets in the lounge Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

"Often rough sleepers sleep during the day because they're safer."

The shelter gives the women, who are often extremely sleep-deprived, a safe, undisturbed sleep, Ms Robinson said.

"We're talking about meeting the most basic needs of people."

Once people have rested they are more likely to open up about other issues that may need addressing, she said.

The centre, along with the rest of the City Mission, is being demolished later this year to make way for a rebuild, but for now the shelter is an all women space, right down to its night guards.

And the donation of books and knitted blankets is going down well.

"The women come in every night and dive on those books, to sit down and read," Ms Robinson said.

The idea for the winter night shelter followed a government call for the public to help provide accommodation with the homeless community.

In an email to RNZ, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) said the government has housed 4000 households nationwide in a combination of transitional, emergency and permanent accommodation, since its request in May.

It said it accommodated 3500 households in immediate need of housing and put another 500 people into long-term housing.

They were working with communities and housing providers to address the urgent need, it said.

MSD is also helping fund the night shelter.

At last count, 18 months ago, there were about 45 women sleeping rough in the CBD, Ms Robinson said.

And while ten beds may seem not many, it's something, she said.

"One individual represents a significant response to the need that is there," she said.

"If we could only think about the hundreds of people on our street in terms of the one, by one, by one, then actually that does add up."

A big question remains for Auckland City Mission over what will happen once the building is emptied for demolition.

Outside the shelter

Outside the shelter Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

"If we continue to see the need present, I would hope we could find a way to keep it going."

Ms Robinson said night shelters are expensive to run and new thinking believes that money is better spent on trying to house chronically homeless people in their own homes.

An Auckland programme, Housing First, which aims to do just that, put 215 households into homes in its first year.

'To make you feel human again'

Six is a trans woman who has lived rough on Auckland's streets and knows all about the risks that it presents. She has been beaten up by police, urinated on and kicked by passers-by.

"Trans people are often invisible," she said.

Six, who edits the K Rd Chronicle, a newspaper by and for the homeless community, now lives in state housing.

But, she said, a night shelter can make a world of difference to a rough sleeper.

"Could you imagine being a week-to-ten days with not being able to shower properly, and somehow fit in with society?"

"And just how good that relief is to have a mattress under you that isn't lice-infested, to get your hair clean, to have somewhere even to sit and polish your nails?"

"To make you feel human again," she said.

Six said a night shelter in Auckland is well-overdue and more should be created for other rough sleepers.

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