This winter families are facing the prospect of sleeping in cars and garages.

Every day 4 new people are dropping into the BETHS office in Blenheim and asking for help with housing. Each of these people represents one household that is struggling to find affordable housing in a town that has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in NZ. Large families in particular are struggling to find a house suitable for their needs. BETHS Manager, Janette Walker, has recently been supporting 4 families with a total of 8 adults and 19 children who were living together in one three bedroom house.

BETHS is short for the Blenheim Emergency and Transitional Housing Service, an initiative that began a year ago and is a partnership between the Christchurch Methodist Mission and Crossroads Marlborough Charitable Trust. Consent has recently been given for BETHS to lease the Brydan Motel for additional emergency housing for families finding themselves out in the cold. This will bring the total number of households being supported at any one time to 32.

Janette Walker says that her team is dealing with people that are highly stressed, either living in a car or at risk of sleeping on the street that night. "Households living in this and other situations are in a state of flux until they get into a stable housing environment. How can you work on the issues you and your loved ones face when you don't have a roof over your head or don't know where you are going to sleep night to night, week to week?" says Janette.

Blenheim is facing a real log-jam in the private rental market. A critical lack of supply means that the weekly asking rent for available homes is out of reach for many in the community. For a town of over 30,000 people, there was a turnover of only 132 tenancies in the past 6 months. "Trying to find a rental home is incredibly stressful. It takes lots of time and energy trying to justify your existence, why you need help," says Janette of the families facing homelessness in Blenheim. "In amongst this they are trying to work or find work and their kids are going to school. We know of many families living in garages and sheds who haven't come seeking help yet but probably will when the weather gets colder."

Many community organisations in Blenheim are referring people in need of housing to BETHS. However, Janette says that there is a real lack of understanding around homelessness from the wider community. "Generally they think it is unemployed people living on the streets with addictions rather than the reality of it mainly being workers and families," she says.

Picture Caption: Blenheim is a small town with a big housing problem.