Approximately 600 people gathered in Wellington Cathedral of St Paul last night to hear stories of the housing crisis, and proposed solutions from representatives of five political parties. Many of the solutions related to the well-known problems we face in this nation, but what came through strongly was a reminder that the housing crisis is not just about physical shelter, but about that innate human need to be safe and secure, in a nurturing community in which we feel like we belong.
Bishop Eleanor and the Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew; opened the evening with reflections on what it means to be at home, and what our nation needs in order for this to be possible. Bishop Eleanor noted one distinction between the kaupapa of the house of prayer in which we sat, and the house over the road – the House of Representatives. In God’s house, the “house rules” are derived from the person for whom the house was built, and as such, “there should be no place of opposition because this is a house where people of a great variety of difference are brought to a place of unity, of oneness, as children of God. A place that everybody should be able to call home. This house inspires us to think of our own homes and how open are they for everyone to be at home.”
Cardinal John re-iterated some of the stark realities of the housing crisis, reminding us that on a global scale, we have the worst rate of homelessness in the OECD – according to a Yale University study. He turned to the Pope’s writing as he described the “feeling of asphyxiation” for the homeless and those in poor quality housing around the world, “and for those people, life can feel like hell on earth.” But Cardinal John then challenged us, saying we have a responsibility towards those people: “As we prepare for this General Election, let’s ensure that we elect a government which will work to provide housing for all, a government who will provide homes that will cater for all living in this country, and create a setting for a dignified life.”
Stories from our communities brought forth personal struggle and frustration – from mould-covered walls in damp, inner city student flats to being given the run around whilst dealing with government agencies, and the frustration of a mother trying to keep her sick child well whilst being shunted from one motel to another, at a cost of thousands. We heard about the increasing struggle of clients of a Hutt Valley community health clinic to find adequate, secure homes, and the irony for guests at the Wellington Soup Kitchen who find that they feel more at home on the streets than in the housing provided for them, because in that situation they find belonging, and a sense of community that offers security.
- Watch “Working with Hutt Valley’s most vulnerable people”
- Watch “Tenants suffer in dire conditions”
- Watch “The voices of the homeless”
Short presentations were then made by the politicians in attendance, with each offering their party’s policies and solutions to the housing crisis. We heard from the Associate Minister of Housing, Hon Alfred Ngaro (watch here), the Conservative Party’s Leighton Baker (watch here), the Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford (watch here), Jenny Condie from The Opportunities Party (watch here), and United Future’s Roger Ellis (watch here). But despite five political parties being there, and considering the resignation of Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei just hours before she was due to speak at the forum, it was the absence of New Zealand First, Act and the Maori Party that saw Bishop Justin serve a provocative reminder to those in Parliament (watch here).
“Our challenge is to make sure that even though it seems like the people next door [in Parliament] don’t seem to care enough to cross the road, we will make sure that they hear our voice,” Bishop Justin stated. “We’re talking about probably the issue that in the polls is the greatest issue facing New Zealanders. For me, this is no longer about housing, it’s just simply about do you care? Do you actually care?” Turning to address the politicians, Bishop Justin asked: “can you people do me a favour and can you take a message to the house next door, and say: we care. We’ve come from all around Wellington because we care. And I want you to know that we cared enough to turn out tonight because we’re gonna vote on this issue.”
You can watch the videos of the forum’s speakers on our YouTube channel – click here. We encourage you to share them within your parishes, communities and wider circles of connection.