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The complexity of homelessness makes it a difficult issue to understand and solve.

In Hamilton a team of interagency professionals have established The People’s Project which aims to help the estimated 700 plus people living either on the streets or in temporary housing.

Established in August 2014 the project already has 388 clients registered and of those 127 families have been supported into permanent housing.

Waikato District Health Board mental health and addictions director Vicki Aitken said the team began with a focus on engagement and building trust. Once needs were identified the team spent a lot of time finding housing and putting long term plans and services around them.

“It was about creating a framework that can address the multiplicity of needs these people have,” she said.

“In many cases these are people who are excluded from services, in fact what we found is most of them were accessing services through emergency departments, crisis mental health teams or from police cells; and that has a cost on us all.”

The project adopted the housing first homelessness response model. This model recognises that it is easier for people to address the issues that led to their homelessness once they are housed.

Wise Group joint chief executive Julie Nelson said the impact of some policies implemented in Hamilton have had immense impact on our homeless people.

“We saw a huge impact as a direct result of the psychoactive substances act and we are still seeing it, the ban didn’t stop people, it just forced them to use an alternative which is causing us to see very unwell people on the street,” she said.

“Homeless people drinking in public places are often arrested or end up at ED, which has a huge cost on society. Imagine if we could house them first and then wrap around services to deal with their addictions?”

The housing first framework has had great success in Canada, USA and Europe. To date the model has proved highly successful for Hamilton with 91 per cent of people remaining in their permanent housing.

Aitken said the project’s success is a real and tangible example of people in action.

“We realise that everyone’s stories are very individual but what is the same are the factors that led to their homelessness…that is what we are trying to address and change.”

Key organisations involved include Hamilton City Council, Wise Group, New Zealand Police, Ministry of Social Development, Housing New Zealand, Department of Corrections, Waikato District Health Board, Midlands Health, Hamilton Central Business Association and Te Puni Kōkiri.

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