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Understandings of homelessness in Aotearoa New Zealand and how they impact a local response: A case study of The People's Project in Hamilton

Administrative and census data documented the increase of homelessness in Aotearoa New Zealand between 2006 and 2018. At the same time, homelessness increased in significance as a social issue. In 2009, the first New Zealand definition of homelessness was published by Statistics New Zealand. In 2013, a rigorous definition of severe housing deprivation was conceptualised by New Zealand academics. However, New Zealand governments ignored these definitions as the basis for formal recognition and enumeration of homelessness, leaving questions around the composition of homelessness in New Zealand open to debate. Informed by academic literature on understandings of homelessness and government responses to homelessness in Australia, Canada and the United States of America, this thesis examines governmental understandings and public sector considerations of homelessness in New Zealand between 2008 and 2018. It traces the influence of New Zealand central governmental understandings of homelessness on the response to homelessness at a local level in Hamilton city. Using The People’s Project in Hamilton as a case study, this research evaluates some of the challenges and opportunities of coordinating a system-wide approach and Housing First response to homelessness in the New Zealand context. Results from a systematic review of academic and grey literature, and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders from both public sector agencies and The People’s Project, reveal nuanced geographies of homelessness at national and local scales. The dominant political discourse employs limited meanings and constrains understandings of homelessness. As a form of cultural signification, this political discourse coalesced with locally specific factors inform a response to homelessness in Hamilton. The political ambivalence of Housing First provided an opportunity to both remove the visible presence of homelessness in Hamilton, and for The People’s Project to drive systems disruption with public sector services. Lack of a central government mandate limited efforts at the local level in Hamilton for the public sector to respond to homelessness. The findings of this research confirm that a consistent understanding of homelessness is instrumental in supporting an effective response to end and prevent homelessness. As the New Zealand Government implements its first ever homelessness action plan, it is imperative that central government implement all of the necessary changes to ensure public sector systems support rather than hinder local efforts in response to homelessness. Crucially, the government needs to ensure that whatever policy settings are put in place are responsive to New Zealand specific manifestations of homelessness.
Type of thesis
Shum, R. F. (2021). Understandings of homelessness in Aotearoa New Zealand and how they impact a local response: A case study of The People’s Project in Hamilton (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14363
The University of Waikato
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