Blenheim Emergency Housing Initiative starting to make an impact

Blenheim has the highest rate of homelessness per capita of any place in NZ. The joint Christchurch Methodist Mission/Crossroads emergency housing initiative is starting to change this.

17 people in a three bedroom house. $3,000 a day being spent by the government to house people in local motels. The shortage of affordable housing in Blenheim has reached crisis point.

New Blenheim-based CMM Social Worker Micheline Quinn has only been in her role for four weeks but has already seen the huge demand for affordable housing in the community. "It is a pretty difficult situation for families in need of housing," she says. "The rents are expensive and there is a critical lack of supply. It is a lot of work just getting a person that is homeless into the services they need," Micheline adds.

The CMM/Crossroads initiative currently leases 4 houses for individuals and families to stay for up to 12 weeks. Another 3 houses will start to be leased soon. In addition to this, homeless individuals and families staying in 7 units in one motel and 13 units in other motels across Blenheim are being supported. While staying in the emergency housing and motel units work is undertaken to secure long-term tenancies and ensure people have the resources to move into a more permanent place.

The negative impact that homelessness or unstable housing has had on people in Blenheim is significant. "It places massive stress on them. Their mental health is impacted. Children have behavioural problems ... it impacts the whole family unit," says Micheline.

Micheline and fellow CMM Social Worker Elizabeth Gash are able to offer a wide range of support to individuals and families in Blenheim that are in need of housing. "We meet people and help them with the issues that led them to where they are," says Micheline. "This can be issues such as debt, addiction and mental health issues. We liaise with GP's and agencies to get them the support they need. Some have just had a bad tenancy so we advocate on behalf of them. We make a plan with them so they can move forward."

Although there had been some initial resistance to the initiative, people in Blenheim are now pleased that there is support available for those in need. "Most of the people I talk to say that it is great that there is something. But at the same time it is sad that there needs to be something," says Micheline.

Picture Caption: Micheline Quinn (right) and Elizabeth Gash are the Blenheim-based social workers helping homeless individuals and families into secure housing.