Books

Why Māori women in New Zealand are disproportionately likely to be homeless

Around half of people who are homeless in New Zealand are women - and 80 per cent of those are Māori. Crime writer Vanda Symon asks why.

Vanda Symon

Vanda Symon. Pic: courtesy of Orenda Books

Aotearoa New Zealand may appear to be a land of prosperity and golden idyll, but like all societies, it has those who fall through the safety nets of a welfare state and who, due to poverty and circumstance, end up without a place to call home.

And homelessness doesn’t just mean those sleeping rough on the streets, which tends to have a more visible and male face, it also encompasses those who sofa surf, those who sleep in their cars, those in night shelters and women’s refuges, those who temporarily cram into severely overcrowded housing with family or friends in dreadful conditions just to have some roof over their head.

The unfortunate reality here in New Zealand is that of those people who are classed as homeless, around 50 per cent of them are women, and four out of those five women are Māori.

So what are the determinents of these appaling statistics? According to a recent study a leading issue is poverty and the particularly high rate of poverty for women.

Compared to homeless men, the women were more likely to be sole parents, have dependent children and be reliant upon government benefits. Across the population more Māori women rely on benefits than non-Māori, and than Māori men.

These benefits are low in New Zealand and with the constant increase in the cost of living, being on a benefit is closely linked to poverty. In addition the more children a solo-parent woman had, the more mouths to feed and clothe and pay for health and education needs, the further into poverty she fell. Escaping domestic violence was often a trigger for this pathway.

The cost of housing in New Zealand is an issue. Rents are expensive, and Māori women face significant discrimination in a competitive and high demand housing market, particularly if they have children. With discrimination and inequity the odds are stacked against women finding stable accommodation even if they are able to scrape up the means.

In my new book Faceless I wanted to explore the stories behind some of our most vulnerable people, and turn the spotlight on our pre-conceived prejudices against them – we like to be able to label and to apportion blame.

You see it all the time. People walk past someone living on the streets avoiding eye contact, turning their head, mentally muffling their ears as they ask for help. Society is quick to judge. The big issues they face are surely self-inflicted. But people do not live rough on the streets for fun. It is not a lifestyle choice, it is a last resort.

The character Max in my book is homeless; he looks gaunt, ill and like an addict yet it is unspeakable trauma has driven him to where he is. Billy is young woman who thrown from the world she knew, finds herself with no other option than to doss down in the back alleyways of the city, to turn tricks to get by. Their stories are very different, but the result is the same, they are forced into a life on the street.

The numbers are alarming, but they do not tell the full story.

Statistics are useful tools if actually used to inform government policy and implement meaningful change, but what they do not tell is of the lived experience, of the constant and gnawing worry for women, the fear, the despondency, the desperation, the concern about your kids, where their next meal will come from, what the future holds for you, for them?

Faceless by Vanda Symon is published by Orenda Books on 17 March, priced at £8.99 with a percentage of profits donated to the charity Shelter

You can buy Faceless from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss
Books

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw
Books

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard review – the moral conundrums of coming of age
Books

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard review – the moral conundrums of coming of age

Fragile Animals by Genevieve Jagger review – a captivating and original gothic novel
Books

Fragile Animals by Genevieve Jagger review – a captivating and original gothic novel

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know