Marama Davidson, responsible for solving homelessness, 'not satisfied' with progress to date

Marama Davidson says it's "unacceptable" homeless teenagers are being left to compete against one another for spaces in emergency accommodation.

Newshub Nation on Saturday aired the story of 18-year-old Hannah, who spent years on the streets and in accommodation provided by a charity. She's now in Government-provided emergency accommodation, but says it's an awful place to live.

"My room has been broken into so many times," she told Newshub Nation. "I have to start putting my table and chairs by my sliding door and my main door… there are drug users there and some of them are on methamphetamine." 

Provider Lifewise told the show they will regularly have 20 teenagers applying for a single room, sending most back onto the street.

Half of New Zealand's estimated 41,000 homeless are under 25. Those who haven't been in the care of Oranga Tamariki have little options but to stay on the street if they can't get a spot in emergency accommodation.

"That story was heartbreaking," Davidson told Newshub Nation after it aired. She is Associate Minister for Housing with responsibility for addressing homelessness, and has been for 10 months now. 

"I know that it's not just Hannah. I know that there are far too many young people in that situation. No person should have to fear for their safety. I'm not satisfied."

Davidson said she and her officials have been "meeting with specialists and providers… meeting with young people themselves and asking my agencies and officials to prioritise bringing a plan into place".

Marama Davidson.
Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

In the meantime, the Government is trying to improve the accommodation on offer in a number of ways. One is cohorting groups of homeless with similar needs - such as families and young people - into the same providers, so people like Hannah aren't living next to drug dealers and the like. 

Another is buying motels. The Government paid $8 million to buy 30-unit Boulevard Motel in Rotorua in July so it can have complete control over how it's run. Davidson defended the purchase price, which one real estate agent estimated was worth just $4.3 million.

"We will do what we need to do to give people shelter right now. Moving away from the commercial arrangement, which doesn't have to prioritise safety, is good. It's positive. People need to be safe in all accommodation, including emergency. 

"The advice was put to the Housing Ministers and to the agencies… that that is what the market rate was. Rather than discuss the numbers, I am very clear that we have to provide shelter."

The emergency housing and transitional bills are presently costing the country close to $1 million a day. 

Davidson said other ministers - those responsible for housing and Maori, for example - know the present homelessness and housing crises are unacceptable. 

"They are putting in place the plans. As the Green Party, there are other levers that we have put out publicly that we think are available to us. James [Shaw, co-leader] and I wrote a public open letter to the Finance Minister saying that Kainga Ora should be allowed to borrow as much money as it needs to build and upscale public housing to meet the need." 

Asked why she didn't just go to Finance Minister Grant Robertson directly, Davidson said she did that too.

"I can do both, and I do do both… But as the Green co-leaders, that was why we signed a cooperation agreement - to maintain, we are also a different party and we have the opportunity to be very loud about what else needs to be done, and we are." 

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