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Housing New Zealand has re-evaluated what they do when someone is found using drugs in their homes. Chief Executive Andrew McKenzie explains why more support will now be available and what the corporation is now doing to ensure people have all the tools they need to sustain a successful tenancy.
It’s worthwhile starting this column by highlighting the government’s direction when it comes to housing. It’s very clear: it is in the best interests of the country that all Kiwis should have access to housing. It is also important that we and others acknowledge that Housing New Zealand will focus on providing homes for people who cannot secure other housing due to their health and support needs. New Zealand will be better off socially and financially overall when people with complex needs are given the right support. That starts with a stable home.
There is a great deal of research by social service and health professionals from overseas and here in New Zealand that points to the benefits of helping people recover from addiction and mental health issues by properly housing them first. A stable, warm and safe home is a platform for access and delivery of wraparound services that help people deal with complex issues. This has a positive flow-on effect on health and social sector spending.
Housing New Zealand’s vision is “building lives and communities by housing New Zealanders”. It means we understand a cornerstone of what we do is giving people a safe, secure place to call their own, even if they do not own it, and providing them a sense of community, of belonging. We’re much more than landlords, even though that is our main role. Our job is multi-faceted. Our tenants are people who have been assessed as having priority housing, health and social support needs, and they will typically be in receipt of a range of public services from other government agencies.
A stable, warm and safe home is a platform for access and delivery of wraparound services that help people deal with complex issues.
In the last 18 months, we’ve taken a long, hard look at the way we work with our tenants, particularly how we keep them in housing. Our staff have always provided a level of care and support that goes beyond a purely landlord role. For many years, we’ve worked alongside government and community agencies to help our tenants. This has largely been informal, and we are now looking to do this systematically by developing formal partnerships and designing operational procedures that focus on sustaining tenancies.
Tenants will be provided with support that will ensure they have all the tools they need to sustain a successful tenancy for the time they need it. Achieving life skills and housing independence are key planks of this approach. That includes tenants who need a stable home to have the best chance of working through any addiction issues. While our tenants need us, we’ll be there for them.
We have been talking with and learning from tenants, tenant support organisations and key stakeholders such as health and social service providers both here in New Zealand and in comparable countries such as Canada and Australia. There will be a focus on making sure people in our homes who experience addiction or have family members living with them who struggle with addiction to get the wraparound support services they need. Those conversations are ongoing. The next step is for us to devise and then implement a range of measures to enable us to handle situations such as methamphetamine use in our properties. We have been planning this for a number of months and are aiming to complete it over the next three months.
This is a complex matter requiring considered thought and planning. While on the surface, the answer is simple – to house people experiencing addiction – in fact, it’s a many-layered task. We have to take into account the various needs of our tenants, our staff, our contractors, our neighbours, our agency partners, our homes and the general public and to develop operating procedures to meet those different groups’ expectations.
We also need to resource this type of work. We’re good at managing people and properties, but the practicalities of managing people using drugs and experiencing associated mental health issues requires ongoing, specialist skills. Our staff will contribute by visiting our tenants’ homes more regularly than our current tenant visits programme and liaising directly, and more often, with health and social services.
We are confident Housing New Zealand is engaging with the right people as we develop new policies and procedures, and that includes the New Zealand Drug Foundation. We greatly value the input the Drug Foundation has given us to date. I look forward to updating our partners and stakeholders on our service responses to tenants living with addiction and mental health issues as the next steps in our work are completed.