Faux Homelessness in New Zealand

One Man’s Trash . . . 

Redefining categories to create sensational headlines–and (temporarily) further one’s career–are stock in trade for those wanting to make a name for themselves.  In New Zealand, it seems that for some reason a good number of these “wannabes” come out of Otago University and are associated with “health research”.  Maybe it’s something in the water down there.

The latest example is Dr Kate Amore who has been busy telling us that 41,000 people in New Zealand are homeless.  How does Dr Amore define “homeless”?  So broadly that a university student, living in a swanky hall of residence is regarded as being without a home.

Here is Dr Amore’s breakdown of the homeless:

If the homeless population were a hundred people, 70 are staying with extended family or friends in severely crowded houses, 20 are in a motel, boarding house or camping ground, and 10 are living on the street, in cars, or in other improvised dwellings. They all urgently need affordable housing. [Otago University Media Release]

Seventy percent of the “homeless” population are not living on the street, sleeping rough.  They are in houses.  But these houses are not their own: they are living with relatives, boarding with friends, etc. But Dr Amore proclaims that these folk are all living in “severely crowded houses”.  How does she know?
 Has she visited every one of the sensational 41,000 homeless that she is trumpeting to the credulous?  Of course not.

And then there is the guilt of the privileged.  Just because Dr Amore presumably lives in a nice, tidy, modern, well-heated home she appears to assume that anyone who does not enjoy her comfort and lifestyle is suffering terribly.   We were taught long ago that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  It is fraught with all sorts of fallacies and misdirections when one presumes to declare that another’s chosen lifestyle is beneath minimum standards of decency.  We confidently predict that within another couple of years, Dr Amore and her ilk will be proclaiming that any house which does not have a “media room” represents severe deprivation.

But we go on.  Twenty percent of Dr Amore’s homeless are living in a motel, boarding house or camping ground.  On this definition, as mentioned above, every tertiary student living in a hall of residence is defined as homeless. People in half-way or community houses for reasons of mental impairment or poor health are “homeless”.   One presumes that Dr Amore’s defence would be that she is only working with the “official” definition of homelessness:

These numbers are based on the official New Zealand definition of homelessness developed by Statistics New Zealand, Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development. [Ibid.]

That definition includes any dwelling not intended for long term accommodation.  All those folk living in motorhomes in camping grounds by choice are included.  They desperately need to be relocated into an affordable house–because bureaucrats say so.  And they always know what’s best.

Living situations are considered temporary accommodation when they provide shelter overnight, or when 24-hour accommodation is provided in a non-private dwelling, and are not intended to be lived in long-term.  This includes hostels for the homeless, transitional supported accommodation for the homeless, and women’s refuges. As well as people staying long-term in motor camps and boarding houses, as these are not intended for long-term accommodation. [NZ Coalition To End Homelessness]

Not intended by whom?  On this definition, those who have deliberately chosen to live long term in caravans on camping grounds, enjoying beautiful sea views, would be counted as homeless, simply because any long-term resident in such places is defined by bureaucratic fiat to be “homeless”.  Moreover, the definition of homelessness also includes those who are “sharing” accommodation with others.

Living situations that provide temporary accommodation for people through sharing someone else’s private dwelling. The usual residents of the dwelling are not considered homeless.  [Ibid]

We repeat, the definition of “homeless” is a bureaucratic construction that bears little resemblance to human reality.  As always, the vast majority of those now officially characterised as homeless are “just fine, thanks very much.”  But such data in the hands of a zealot can become a cause celebre overnight.  As has happened.

None of this is to discount those who are genuinely sleeping rough.  But even here we need to be measured and careful rather than sensational.  Lot’s of people sleeping rough in cars in South Auckland, for example, will tell you to move on if you knock on their windows and ask if they are OK–as TV crews found out when they did just that.

Sloppy sensationalism has never helped out the genuinely needy.  In fact, as one would expect, it does far more harm than good.  When faced with the artificial bureaucratically constructed number of 41,000 homeless people in New Zealand, most will laugh into their morning cornflakes.  They know a con-job when they see it.  But deceptive and misleading sensationalism does nothing–and in fact it damages–the needs and causes of the genuinely homeless.

Down there in Otago, they call such vacuousness science.  As the proverb has it–there are lies, damned lies, and . . .  statistics.
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