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Canterbury Youth Housing Crisis a Public Health Concern

2 November 2012

Canterbury Youth Housing Crisis a Serious Public Health Concern

A national non-profit organisation that specialises in working with young parents is calling the housing crisis in Christchurch a serious public health concern.

In the last 12-months alone, the ‘Better Health, Better Housing’ programme, managed by St John of God Waipuna, has helped over 40 young people and young single-parent families with desperate housing needs, through a mix of providing housing information and advocacy. The programme leader, Paul McMahon has also been working on building support for youth-focused transitional and social housing, and says that energy and momentum is building in Christchurch to do something practical about youth housing needs.

"The problem is significant; it's much bigger than people realise," says McMahon, "people often ask why the young people can't live with their families - the answer is simple: they would not be homeless if their families were able to suitably house them. These young people typically usually do not come from stable households that are suitable for them and their children”.

A 2008 study estimated that at any time there was likely to be 1,444 vulnerable and at risk young people aged 15-24 in Christchurch living in inappropriate and insecure housing, and that was before the earthquakes. Since the February 22, 2011 earthquake, there has been a noticeable increase in young people and, in particular, young solo mothers in housing need.

St John of God Waipuna General Manager, Trevor Batin, adds "Without help many young families will stay living in damp, crowded conditions that are unsafe and unhealthy, particularly for young children. Without sustained intervention, the lack of suitable housing for young people is deeply concerning."

McMahon’s service does not advertise and mostly takes internal referrals from within St John of God Waipuna, and says he would be overwhelmed if they advertised, he says, “While I’m aware of various organisations developing social housing, I’m the only person in Christchurch and, as far as I know, in the country who works specifically with youth housing: the potential for expansion of our working model is marked.

“Christchurch needs specific youth housing solutions, including a purpose-built facility for kids leaving state care and social housing designed for young people in mind. The market has not delivered our most vulnerable young people the housing they need; what we need is social intervention to provide it. It’s possible – other countries, such as Australia, the UK and the US do it – we just need to decide as a society that having young people and their children homeless or in unsuitable housing is unacceptable here.”

The ‘Better Health, Better Housing’ has been active for about two years and is presently being funded by Partnership Health's innovation fund and the Vodafone New Zealand Small Grants Fund for Canterbury until January 2013. It is presently seeking funding to continue the programme beyond that date.

Further information can be found on the Trust’s website

St John of God Hauora Trust is a division of St John of God Health Care and forms part of the Ministry of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand. We aim to continue the healing mission of Jesus Christ through the provision of disability, youth and social services that promote life to the full and which enhance the physical, intellectual, social and spiritual dimensions of being human.


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