Auckland’s homeless population will soon be officially tallied for the first time, but some people who feed and support the city’s rough sleepers aren’t on board with the project.
A count of people living on the streets or in vehicles across the region will be held from 9.30pm to 12.30am on September 17.
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Liz Kiriona, the manager of RāWiri Community House in Manurewa, south Auckland, says there isn’t enough information about what will be done with data collected during the count.
“People [who help rough sleepers] have a lot of questions [about it].
“They [the homeless] aren’t going to get a house out of it. Some of our guys will probably still be on the street this time next year.”
Kiriona supports local rough sleepers by providing them with blankets, sleeping bags, ponchos, hats and scarves, to keep them warm during winter, as well as toiletries and water.
The count is being led by the five organisations that comprise the Housing First Auckland collective, Auckland City Mission, Lifewise, Kāhui Tū Kaha, VisionWest, and LinkPeople. Auckland Council is providing $375,000 funding to the project.
Housing First Auckland project manager Fiona Hamilton says the count is needed because the extent of unsheltered homelessness is unknown.
“We have very good estimates of all forms of homelessness, but we don’t have a good understanding of the size and nature of unsheltered homeless right across the city.”
She says the findings will be shared widely. They’ll be used to inform the delivery of services to support homeless people, prevention efforts, and national policy-making to “progress Auckland’s journey toward ending homeless so that it is rare, brief, and non-recurring”,” Hamilton says.
Kiriona says volunteers who go out on the night to count rough sleepers “will be lucky to find the homeless”. “They’ll go underground,” she says.
Stephanie Pollard is one of the co-ordinating volunteers for the Feed the Homeless Auckland group, which provides hot food, clothing and toiletries to rough sleepers around the CBD.
She says the group isn’t planning on volunteering to help on September 17.
“I question the value [of the count] and know a lot of homeless people who are distrustful of its intent and … of sharing their information.
“I fear it will not be a representative count and thus a waste of money, which could instead be spent on providing practical services like showers or lockers.”
Hamilton says the data collected will be compiled and publicly released in a report later this year. It will provide a better understanding of the size and nature of unsheltered homelessness in Auckland.
She hopes rough sleepers don’t avoid being counted on September 17, she says.
“We hope that doesn’t happen. If it does, it could present an undercount of the issue and that wouldn’t be a good thing.”
Hamilton says volunteers who take part in the count will get a beanie and food on the night, while the homeless will get a beanie and a supermarket voucher.
“Aucklanders can see we have an issue,” she says.
“Organisations working in this area have said to Auckland Council that what we need is robust data [on the problem] and without that it’s really hard to advocate for a well-resourced response.”
People keen to volunteer for the count can register online by August 17 at aucklandshomelesscount.org.nz.