'More than a crisis' - Emergency housing group calls for urgent action from Government as demand soars

Source: 1News

When the Labour Party was in Opposition, it said clearly and often that what's happening with housing in our country is "a crisis", and few people wouldn't agree they were right. But heading into its second term, an emergency housing group says nothing's changed under the Government.

Monte Cecilia Trust's Bernie Smith says the Government promised "transformational change" , but that hasn't happened.

Instead, the housing crisis has worsened.

"At the moment we're getting 20 to 30 calls per day. A year ago, it was 10 to 15 calls per week," he told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

"A year ago, we would have probably five or 10 families waiting for a housing solution. Today I can tell you we've got 400 families."

Smith says New Zealand needs a Government "that recognises this is more than a crisis".

"We've got families and particularly children that have been traumatised and are going to be living with this for generations to come," he says. 

Families are living in overcrowded situations and shifting houses frequently because they have no alternative, according to Smith, leading to domestic abuse.

For children, there's a lack of connection.

"They don't even have a bedroom they can call their own. They don't have a place they can put their toys. In fact, they don't have toys."

Within the families it's currently supporting, Monte Cecilia Trust is helping 1458 children, around half of them under seven years old. 

Instead of looking forward to Christmas, Smith says their families are worried about how to put food on the table each week.

"The Prime Minister herself says that we clearly have been lifting children out of poverty. Well I don't know what stats she's reading, because the reality on the ground is families' circumstances have got worse."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has rejected criticism over the Government's response to child poverty in the past, including when Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft dismissed it as "weak, supine and passive" .

A damning UNICEF report in September ranked New Zealand near the bottom of wealthy countries for the wellbeing of children.

Ardern says there are nine measures for child poverty , of which seven have improved under the Labour-led Government.

But today, Smith says that's not enough.

"We need a Prime Minister to show some empathy in her Government," he says.

"The basic household income needs to be lifted so that families can actually think more about the future rather than trying to survive in the day."