Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Hidden in plain sight: The rising problem of youth homelessness

youth homelessness in New Zealand
youth homelessness in New Zealand
“A lot of the general public believe there’s no youth on the streets,” says VOYCE Advocate Simulata Pope   Photo: Matt Perry
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Alice Lolohea | Reporter/Director/Videographer

Couch-surfing, temporary accommodation, multiple families crammed under one roof or just living on the streets: the housing crisis has largely contributed to New Zealand’s growing homeless population.

As a community youth leader and VOYCE advocate for children in state care, Simulata Pope has seen a side of homelessness not many Kiwis believe is happening.

“A lot of the general public believe there’s no youth on the streets,” Pope says.

In fact, the work that she and other homeless youth advocacy groups do is constantly met with incredulity, or accusations of falsehood.

“You won’t find young people on the street until you actually go looking for them. And I think there’s that perception that it doesn’t exist because we don’t see it. But we do see it, and we can see it quite clearly through poverty, through the housing crisis.”

And with the Covid pandemic gripping the world, Pope says many resources usually accessible to youth are now overrun, and Aotearoa’s homeless problem has only heightened.

Pope and her team have hurried to put together a few things for these kids to keep with them as they hunker down in hidden corners.

“We’re still trying to scramble to get kids on the street masks; they’re more open and susceptible to the exposure of Covid. They’re not warm, so they could either be sick from Covid or sick in general.”

“So all of that kind of stuff — masks, art packs, clothes, toiletries — you don’t find it on the streets as much as you do in your own home.”

During the first lockdown in 2020, most homeless people were placed into emergency housing. But many homeless youth were missed and stuck in limbo.

Pope says during this time, motels, emergency housing and rentals weren’t easily accessible for young people as they were for adults.

“When young people were pushed to go find motels, they were too young to stay there, so they ended up on the streets,” she explains.

“If they don’t have a trusted adult around them, they have to go find these things on their own.”

“If you’re under 16, they become Oranga Tamariki’s responsibility. And if you’re over 16, then it becomes the Ministry of Social Development’s [job] to find you a house. So there’s all of these complexities.”

Pope says “[Youth homelessness] is so undocumented, but it’s so severe.”    Photo: Supplied
For these children, homelessness begins when they’re first removed from their homes and placed into state care.

If they feel unsafe in those placements, or if they are unable to find sufficient mental health support, children end up running away and usually end up on the streets.

Pope adds that the more placements young people are put into, the more transient they become and eventually, become comfortable not being in a stable home environment.

“That says something about the way that this country has handled the whole issue of youth homelessness.”

It’s a vicious cycle for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. VOYCE is currently putting pressure on those with ministerial portfolios to acknowledge the issue through a petition to end youth homelessness.

“[Youth homelessness] is so undocumented, but it’s so severe,” Pope says.

“For the last two years, we have been calling for the Government to take ownership and commitment to the fact that there’s young people on the streets — to help us out with data and research, to help us out with emergency housing specifically for young people.”

“So at the same time we provide houses, we provide the wraparound supports and then also regular reporting and accountability on their behalf. So while they’re saying they’re gonna do it, we know that they’re going to do it, and we can see that they’re going to do it.”

VOYCE also have the 6 Promises For 6000 campaign, an initiative aimed to make sure state care ‘truly becomes a caring system’.

The campaign outlines six basic rights of children, and the responsibilities of adults to ensure the children in their care receive things like adequate care, stability, support and medical access.

“Young people who are homeless [aren’t] on the streets by choice. And that’s actually the country’s responsibility,” says Pope.

“I think no one wants to actually admit or be held accountable to the fact that young people who are homeless aren’t on the streets by choice.”

“People don’t really talk about youth homelessness, because it then becomes a collective responsibility for us to take ownership of the fact that we’re literally providing opportunities for kids to live on the streets.”

Click here to sign the petition to end Youth Homelessness

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