• What Stops Us from Housing the Homeless?

    What is your reaction when you read or hear about families (especially those with young children) sleeping in cars or in garages or simply on the streets in this cold weather?

    Do you, as I think many do, feel a brief flicker of concern but reassure yourself that the adults who find themselves in such a plight have to be feckless or inadequate or irresponsible, and therefore deserve no better?  Do you say to yourself that anyone who cannot organise their lives to provide a roof over their heads cannot expect others (and particularly the taxpayer) to bail them out?  And do you stick to that view, even while reluctantly agreeing that it is a little rough to make children pay the price for their parents’ assumed deficiencies?

    If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then you are in good company – because that is broadly the government’s answer too.  But then, are you happy with a government and a Prime Minister who could, with the stroke of a pen, authorise the expenditure that would get these families and children off the streets, and into safe, warm and healthy accommodation, but refuses to do so?  Are you happy to stick to what might loosely be called your principles and to let the dice lie where they fall, come what may  – even if the dice are the only cover that some of your fellow citizens might have available?

    Is there no room in politics for a simple human reaction to the plight of another – for a simple act of compassion and kindness?  What is it that makes us think that governments cannot, and should not, be expected to behave as any ordinary decent human being would do?

    And what conclusion would you reach if, after a moment’s thought, you realised that these benighted homeless families were not actually the authors of their own misfortunes but were in fact the victims of forces over which they have no control – that they were paying the price for the unceasing quest for ever higher profits by banks, landlords, developers, all of whom have played a significant part in ratcheting up  purchase prices and rents to levels that cannot be afforded?

    Do you think that you have any power to hold the government that we elected to account, presiding as it does over the disposition of the billions we provide to them as taxpayers, for their failure in a wealthy country to ensure that some small part of our riches is devoted to ensuring that children have somewhere warm and safe to sleep at night?

    Have you imagined what it would be like to have nowhere to lay your head, on the coldest nights of the year?

    What is to stop a Prime Minister from saying to himself, if not to others, that it is an affront to live in a society that pretends it cannot afford to provide a simple roof over the heads of our most vulnerable?  Why does he not listen to his conscience and instruct his ministers and civil servants that an immediate solution must be found today, and that a long-term solution must planned for and financed tomorrow?

    And why do we not stop to question a system that leaves the vulnerable defenceless against the depredations of the greedy?  Why do we not say that this is not the New Zealand we wish to live in or thought  we lived in?  Why do we not make sure that our political leaders understand that we elect them to do our bidding, and that our bidding is that decent housing is the minimum that every child has a right to expect and that it must be made available?

    Or would you prefer to find refuge in the thought that the homeless do not deserve to be helped, that it would cost too much to do so, that they should learn to help themselves, that they would waste any opportunity given to them, that the government cannot afford it and needs to protect its own surplus, and that you would in any case prefer to enjoy some tax cuts?

    Solving the homelessness crisis is a matter of political will.  Do you have that will?   And will you make sure that your will prevails?

    Bryan Gould

    17 July 2017