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Rotorua’s growing issue of homelessness

Business and community leaders step up to confront Rotorua’s growing issue of homelessness

New Zealand’s homelessness statistics are alarming. Approximately 30,000 New Zealanders are severely housing deprived, with almost half being under the age of 25. The level of rough sleeping, the most extreme form of homelessness, acts as gauge of a much larger issue - in 2006, more than 80 people were sleeping rough in Auckland.

For the first time, Lifewise will host the annual Big Sleepout in Rotorua as well as Auckland. This year, Rotorua’s finest business, community and political leaders will be sleeping rough to put an end to homelessness in the city. Every dollar raised by Rotorua’s Big Sleepout participants will go towards ending homelessness in Rotorua.

Rotorua’s very first Lifewise Big Sleepout will support the work local agencies are doing to end homelessness in Rotorua for the Action Group To End Homelessness . The supporters include Lifewise Rotorua, Salvation Army, Department of Corrections, local youth community development agency Te Waiariki Purea Trust, Rotorua District Council and Community Facing Ministries, a church-based community housing initiative.

Stripped of their creature comforts and exposed to the winter elements, leaders and influencers from Rotorua’s business, community and political spheres will spend a night on cold concrete, receiving an insight into what it means to sleep rough. Participants are encouraged to blog and share their thoughts and experiences via social media. Onsite facilities are limited, but people will be able to continue to share during the night thanks to mobile power technology provided by Powerall and Eton, which recharge smartphones, tablets, cameras and other electronic devices.

All participants will be sponsored by friends, family and colleagues to go homeless for the night. Rotorua’s leaders have set an overall goal of raising $50,000 – crucial funds that are needed to get vulnerable homeless people in Rotorua off the streets and into homes.

Lifewise, a social agency that supports homeless people into homes, was asked to lead the Action Group To End Homelessness. The Big Sleepout is an opportunity to raise awareness about the growing issue of homelessness across NZ, and to raise the funds needed to make it a thing of the past.

“Increasingly we’re being called on to help local communities all over New Zealand looking for solutions. In Auckland, homelessness is not confined to the central city. All over the region people are shocked at the growing level of rough sleeping, which indicates a much deeper issue. New Zealand is getting to crisis point in terms of housing our most vulnerable with affordable, stable housing. Charitable handouts alone won’t solve the problems faced by those who have nowhere to live. Homelessness is a complex issue, which will require a joined-up approach, with government, business and community all playing their part. Preventing homelessness is the ultimate goal; it will take a sustained effort, there is no quick fix.

“The impact the Lifewise Big Sleepout has on those who take up the challenge to sleep rough for one night continues to astound us. Talking to people who have experienced homelessness and are now stably housed helps participants see the issue differently. It gets them talking about how business, government and the community sector must work together to solve this issue” says Moira Lawler, General Manager of Lifewise.

Based on a Housing First model Lifewise’s approach to tackling homelessness is working. In the last year, 124 homeless people have been helped into housing, of which 61 were found permanent housing. “Typically around 80% of those Lifewise helps remain housed but the real challenge for us right now is a lack of affordable housing. Our team work incredibly hard but if there are no affordable flats available, getting someone off the street becomes impossible. And that’s incredibly frustrating for everyone involved.” adds Moira.

As well as raising funds, the Lifewise Big Sleepout also aims to increase understanding and deconstruct the common misconceptions surrounding homelessness. Lifewise believes that anyone can become homeless after three life-changing events. “A spouse or partner dies, a job is lost, and a rental agreement is axed, and even the most responsible and well-prepared individual can find themselves on the streets. Believe me, very few people are immune to homelessness,” says Moira.

Homelessness extends beyond those sleeping in doorways, parks and under bridges to those living in cars, on other people’s couches, in outdoor garages, and in extremely overcrowded conditions. Street homelessness and severe housing deprivation have significant health and social consequences for the individuals and families affected. The issue of homelessness is also an economic drain on New Zealand society.

With a view to creating a nationwide event, this year’s Big Sleepout will be held in Auckland and Rotorua on Thursday July 2. Lifewise is inviting business and community leaders to get involved and experience a small part of life on the streets. By joining the Big Sleepout, people will help Lifewise address homelessness around New Zealand in an empowering and sustainable manner. “It really is a unique networking experience - rather different to meeting someone around a board table!” says Moira.

For more information or to help Lifewise achieve their Big Sleepout fundraising goal, email bigsleepout@lifewise.org.nz or visit bigsleepout.org.nz

- Ends -

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