Sunday, November 28

‘It all looks like an emergency’: Auckland’s homeless teens fight in lockdown

It is midnight in the middle of the lockdown and another call came in that a young man needs a place to stay.

LifeWise's Jamie Akarana and Peter Shimwell outside youth accommodation facilities in Auckland's financial district.

LifeWise’s Jamie Akarana and Peter Shimwell outside youth accommodation facilities in Auckland’s financial district.
Photo: LDR / Justin Latif

At Lifewise in Auckland, a team member will assess the situation and decide whether the youth should be accommodated immediately in the organization’s transitional accommodation facilities.

Jamie Akarana, one of Lifewise’s youth development workers, says that newcomers, ages 14 to 19, tend to show up without a phone or change of clothes, often escaping abusive or risky life circumstances.

“It’s a bit revealing to see the things that happen to these young people,” he says.

“They are not choosing to be homeless, but if the other option is to be abused, then they are choosing not to be in that environment.

“Obviously the confinement is difficult for everyone, but for these young people they are in limbo, without much hope, and right now everything seems like an emergency.”

Of those who do not flee from abusive situations, some have just “come out of [state] they care and are floating and lost in the middle. “She describes a situation where a young woman’s placement in foster care ended just before closing. She is now unable to return to her hometown because there is public transport from Auckland .

“You can’t go home and the people who can pick it up can’t get an exemption to pick it up.”

There are no flights or buses “so she’s stuck here, needing emergency housing, until someone picks her up or we go down a level.”

The housing facility, a former backpacker in Auckland’s CBD, is a temporary measure funded for closure only. But what happens to these young people when the city goes to level 2?

“The government has really helped a lot during this blockade by providing this space,” Akarana says.

“But there is a lot of uncertainty about where they will go after this is over.”

LifeWise Community Services Manager Peter Shimwell says that more than 65 percent of the people his organization has helped during the lockdown were between the ages of 16 and 19.

“At some point we are working with between 60 and 70 young people,” says Shimwell, noting that these numbers have been increasing in recent years.

Since many chronic sleepers began life on the streets as teenagers, he is increasingly concerned that “we may lose another generation to homelessness.”

Shimwell hopes the government will create a plan to address this, as “staying in emergency housing indefinitely is not a strategy, it is a waiting pattern.”

“We need an adequate strategy so that young people leaving the juvenile care and correctional centers are not left without a place to go. We need to develop capacity as a sector and not only for their housing needs, but also for their mental health, training and support needs “.

Auckland City Mission Executive Director Helen Robinson, left, and Auckland Councilor Fa'anana Efeso Collins

Auckland City Mission Executive Director Helen Robinson, left, and Auckland Councilor Fa’anana Efeso Collins
Photo: LDR / Justin Latif / SUPPLIED

Lifewise is part of the Auckland Youth Homelessness collective, along with VOYCE Whakaronga Mai, Auckland City Mission, LifeWise, Strive Community Trust, RainbowYOUTH and VisionWest.

This Sunday is World Homeless Day and the collective is encouraging people to mark the day by signing a petition calling for more government action on youth homelessness.

Auckland Councilor Fa’anana Efeso Collins holds the council’s homeless portfolio and endorses Manaaki Rangatahi ki Tamaki’s call “to develop a national strategy that addresses youth homelessness as a guide to doing this. well”.

“We cannot allow our young people to experience more barriers and difficulties due to this blockade, so we must all find better solutions to provide them with safe and adequate housing.”

The Ministry of Children has primary responsibility for young people who have been in state or juvenile justice residences. Deputy Executive Director Kiri Milne told The Spinoff that the ministry offers a range of services to ensure they “acquire the knowledge, skills, resources and support they need to thrive.”

“Counseling and assistance can come from the dedicated Transition Helpline team at our national call center, a transition worker, a site office, or a juvenile justice facility or residence. [And] Starting at age 15, social worker conversations with rangatahi will naturally include discussions about his transition from care or a juvenile justice residential setting. “

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the emergency housing sector that supports the homeless. The Deputy Executive Director of the Ministry for Housing Supply, Response and Partnerships is Anne Shaw. In a written response, he told The Spinoff that HUD is “increasing transitional housing locations for youth” as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Homeless Action Plan.

Shaw said that Covid has also meant that HUD has “gotten the job done in the longer term” by immediately providing more housing for youth, adding that “more places are being added.”

“In addition to the support offered by MSD Youth Service, HUD currently funds a number of providers to offer transitional and supported housing locations for rangatahi in Aotearoa New Zealand. These services are designed to reflect the specific needs of the youth they serve. support and intensity of services that may be needed. “

A HUD spokesperson confirmed that LifeWise was a temporary solution that will continue to be funded while it “provides more transitional housing for rangatahi in Auckland.”

With Auckland City’s mission this week being named as a landmark, its CEO, Helen Robinson, says Delta’s ongoing expansion highlights the importance of having more permanent housing solutions to keep people, in particularly young people, off the streets.

“It’s a pretty dynamic environment right now,” he says.

“While it is the first time in the last 18 months that it has had a positive result here, what we are hearing from our extension workers is that the longer Auckland is locked up, the more difficult it is.

“And if life wasn’t good at best, then Covid just makes it worse.”

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.

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