Rough Sleeping in the Land of Milk and Honey

HomelessnIMG_5722ess, literal on the street homelessness (‘rough sleeping’ in the local and UK vernacular) and doubling up/less visible homelessness, is on the rise in New Zealand. New Zealand, the world’s first welfare state, the land of milk and honey. What’s going on here?

When I visited here two years ago there was little attention paid to homelessness by government or non-governmental agencies. I met some homeless adults who were using the Auckland Central Library and there were a few people sitting in doorways along Queen Street who were asking for spare change.

This time, especially in and around Auckland–including here in the public library–people who are experiencing homelessness  are very much in evidence. So much in evidence that our University of Washington students on a study abroad program commented that between the prominent Space Needle-like structure (the Sky Tower), the amount of construction of high-rise condominium buildings, and people who are homeless, they felt as if they were still in Seattle instead of in Auckland.

A few studies have been done recently looking at the rise of homelessness in Auckland. Their version of a One Night Count found 68 rough sleepers within a 3 kilometer radius from the Sky Tower. A similar count in January 2015 found 147 rough sleepers within the same geographic area; the largest increase in rough sleeping was in young adults ages 18-25 years. New Zealand government and community members I’ve spoken with about this say that homelessness in New Zealand is a recent phenomenon. They attribute it to the country’s rapidly rising income inequality (the fastest increase of any industrialized country), neoliberal government policies weakening the country’s social support system.

Despite these distressing trends, I have found a refreshingly creative and ‘can do’ attitude towards addressing the problems of rising poverty, homelessness, and income inequities. In a series of subsequent blog posts I’ll share some of the most innovative I’ve come across while here in New Zealand.

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