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The Press-News Column May 12

In defence of the city councillor who said No.

Only a person with a heart of stone could be untroubled by the stream of stories appearing in The Press about locals sleeping rough, bereft of secure housing.  Whether it’s the incompetence of the system, or the individual’s incompetence that authors their dire predicament, a cry for help in the media glare thankfully sees the issue hastily resolved, in the great majority of cases. But dealing to drug-addled homeless youth, who are more pre-occupied on funding their next hit than paying the rent, is a tougher nut to crack.  Enter the deputy mayor, Vicki Buck, who thinks it’s the city council’s role to firehose the issue with your money, by underwriting their rental payments on more than 40 private properties. Enter Cr Ali Jones, who had the audacity to say no. No, to the never-ending binge. No, to the misappropriation of the city’s coffers as a branch office of social welfare. No, to Vicki Buck’s insatiable appetite to dream up new feel-good, big-spending schemes, that stray further from the council’s knitting and inflate the rates explosion. As Cr Jones points out, only eight weeks ago, the council benevolently shelled out $300,000 to the City Mission for their new Homelessness Accommodation Project. But now Cr Buck wants to throw another $400,000 at the problem, even though Cr Jamie Gough has confirmed to me the council housing unit  (which is supposed to be revenue neutral) “can’t clean its own face”, clocking up a monthly loss of $660,000. Fundamentally, the council’s penchant for trying to usurp the core functions of the Ministry of Social Development is galloping out of control. Christchurch is blessed with an abundance of community housing providers. As just one example, ComCare and VisionWest have just been contracted by the government to provide more placements for transient residents. Meanwhile, the inspirational Sue Bagshaw is developing transitional housing for homeless youth. 16 and 17 year olds are currently paid $175 a week by Work & Income, plus a $65  accommodation supplement. If they pooled their money wisely, and behaved lawfully, securing a rental wouldn’t be problematic. But unreformed glue sniffers, pot and meth heads, unwilling to deal to their demons, is a hell of a proposition for private landlords. I’ve held the hands of several friends as they confronted drug addiction. I know how tortuous the journey can be. But it’s the extended whanau who need to be fronting up, taking account and reclaiming their “lost” children from the street. The hate-filled, rancid, vitriol piled on a councillor who courageously said  no to yet another hand-out, is contemptible.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press newspaper. May 12.

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