Salvation Army: Key wrong on homeless visit

Salvation Army: Key wrong on homeless visit

The Salvation Army has rubbished the Government's claims Ministry of Social Development workers went with them to visit those living in cars in south Auckland.

It's an embarrassing contradiction of facts as the organisation sought to set the record straight on the work it is doing with those in need.

Prime Minister John Key claimed a team of social workers went out to Bruce Pulman Park in Takanini on Monday night where they spoke to people in eight cars -- none of whom wanted the Government's help.

"MSD and the Sallies went around and knocked on [the] eight cars that they could find," he says.

"All eight of those people refused to take support either from Sallies or MSD."

The visits announced as part of a Government plan to help the hidden homeless in Auckland to try to get into some form of accommodation.

But on Friday, the Salvation Army disputed Mr Key's report of events saying no MSD officials went with them on their regular visit on Monday night.

The Salvation Army's Ian Huston believes it may have been a miscommunication about what happened.

"The Salvation Army declined the offer by MSD officials to accompany The Salvation Army as some of these people are very wary of Government officials," it says in a statement.

Mr Huston says Mr Key's comment about people wanting help was wrong -- they do want it, but not necessarily the kind of assistance that would have been on offer.

"We know the people who are living in cars don't want to live in cars. They don't want to live in cars and it's all to do with housing affordability and all of those issues which has got them to where they are.

"They might not want a particular kind of help and we're trying to sensitively work with them in a way that they'll feel trust in us to help them, support them, advocate for them to get out of that situation but they don't an invasive kind of help."

It says their social workers never knock on car windows, but instead provide food, water and toiletries from a van where they also offer access to social services and advocacy.

It is also distressed at recent media reports highlighting their plight, saying it puts the relationship they've built at risk.

"The Salvation Army has spent years developing relationships and building trust with these people living on the outer margins of society -- people who often have a deep distrust of officials."

The claim has led Labour leader Andrew Little to demand an explanation from Mr Key about why "he was so misleading".

"The Prime Minister is so out of touch on housing that he'll say anything to deny there's a crisis. His claims that Ministry officials accompanied the Salvation Army to visit these families living in their cars were simply wrong.

"His comments have put the Salvation Army's relationship with these desperate families at risk and he needs to explain why," he says.

Meanwhile, the Greens want the Prime Minister to apologise, saying his attempt to distract from the housing failures has threatened to undo the work of the Salvation Army.

The homeless population in New Zealand is around the size of Whanganui and signs point to it getting worse, according to Statistics New Zealand.