Ending homelessness in Christchurch

A collective of Community Housing Providers, led by the Christchurch Methodist Mission, are bringing the highly successful Housing First initiative to Christchurch. 

Ending homelessness in Christchurch by 2020 is the goal of the Housing First Initiative which has recently received two year funding from the Ministry of Social Development. The initiative is being directly overseen by CMM, Comcare, Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust and Emerge Aotearoa with a number of social service organisations, government agencies and people with lived experience of homelessness providing support. Recruiting for positions within the Housing First team is currently underway with the initiative set to begin before winter.

There is a significant need to provide intensive support for those in our community who are homeless. Christchurch City Council staff undertook a count of people sleeping rough in the first two weeks of September 2017. The count found that at least 170 men and 20 women were without homes and sleeping rough. Many of these people have been living on the streets for a considerable period of time and struggle to sustain a tenancy due to issues such as debt, mental health or addiction issues, anti-social behaviour or the lack of skills necessary to manage a house. They are often disaffected from current services and the welfare system and so are invisible to those systems. The Housing First initiative will engage positively with them through assertive outreach, persistent intensive relationships, a wide range of support and skills building and solution focused tenancy management.

Housing First is a model of housing which grew out of the work of Dr Sam Tsemberis, a clinical community psychologist in the USA in the 1990s. It has been widely used in cities across the USA and in Canada and more recently in Hamilton and Auckland where Lifewise (the Methodist Alliance member in Auckland) is using the Housing First model to address street homelessness. The philosophy behind Housing First is a belief that all people have a right to housing and anyone can be supported into housing directly from homelessness. The practical application of this is placing people experiencing homelessness directly into permanent housing without the requirement of a transition period or to be sober or drug free. Tailored support services are offered to individuals but are not a requirement to stay in the housing. The only requirement of a person receiving a house is that they accept a weekly visit from the Housing First support worker on a regular basis. The pilot project in Hamilton (The People's Project, implemented by the Wise Group) indicates that after two years, 96% remain housed.

CMM Executive Director Jill Hawkey explains that Housing First is a proven way to end long term homelessness. "It is really exciting to be part of this initiative that will bring together the organisations and groups working with those who are homeless in our community. The Housing First initiative will work with those who have been homeless for over a year. This will sit alongside the other initiatives that CMM is engaged in, such as the provision of emergency housing for families, most of whom have been homeless for a relatively short period of time."