Sometimes doing the right thing is not always popular. The same people that agree something should be done to address a particular issue are often the first to say "Not In My Back Yard".
The Christchurch Methodist Mission (CMM) has been working on a number of housing initiatives in Christchurch and Blenheim to provide warm, affordable and secure housing to some of the most vulnerable people in the community despite this opposition.
Since the middle of last year, CMM and the Crossroads Marlborough Trust have been collaborating together as the Ministry of Social Development's preferred emergency housing provider in Blenheim, a place with the highest rate of homelessness per capita in NZ. Previous to this the Government had been spending almost $100,000 a month putting homeless families and individuals up in motels, some for months at a time, on emergency grants. After much opposition from neighbours, consent has finally been given for the Government's purchase of the Brydan Motel in Blenheim which the CMM-Crossroads partnership will manage. This will enable 17 households to be housed in a modern motel complex where there is plenty of room for the children to play while permanent housing is found for them. A further 7 households are being supported in individual houses. Even though the motel represents an opportunity to make a tangible difference to those without a home, some of the neighbours were concerned that the motel's purchase would bring noise, crime and eventually lower house prices.
People wanting a solution to homelessness but only if it doesn't impact them has been a significant challenge to addressing the issue in Christchurch in the past. Businesses in the CBD have wanted the Christchurch City Council to remove rough sleepers from the area as they are not part of the 'new Christchurch' that is emerging from the ruins of the earthquakes.
The Housing First initiative is set to begin in Christchurch before winter and will support 100 of those sleeping rough into housing. It is a model that provides housing to those that have been homeless for at least a year without the requirement of a transition period or to be sober or drug free. 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 is using the Housing First model to address street homelessness.
The initiative is being directly overseen by CMM (who is also the fund holder), 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. This collaborative response will make a huge difference to those sleeping rough in the city and will bring together the organisations and groups working with those who are homeless. Instead of simply removing those sleeping rough from the city centre, the Housing First initiative will provide housing, a wide range of support and the tenacity to stick with them through the challenges to maintain their tenancy that they will face.
In 2015, Linwood Avenue Union Church wanted to do something about the housing crisis in Christchurch. They had some spare land at the back of their church but didn't have the capital to develop it so approached CMM to see what was possible. Sometime after this, 5 relocatable houses were bought by CMM and then transported from the Kaiapoi Temporary Accommodation Village to Linwood where the church has leased the land to CMM. A year after the church first approached CMM, the Linwood Housing Community was opened and 5 homeless or families at risk of being homeless moved in shortly after.
If offering your own backyard is the most you can do, that is more than enough to make a difference to those in need.
Picture Caption: The Linwood Housing Community has provided a home for five struggling families.