Advertisement
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.

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.

Subscribe to The Big Issue

From just £3 per week

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work.

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.

Advertisement
Advertisement

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.

Ethical Shopping

Visit The Big Issue Shop

Browse our range of books and support a social enterprise today.

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

Advertisement

Bigger Issues need bigger solutions

Big Issue Group is creating new solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunities for the 14.5 million people living in poverty to earn, learn and thrive. Big Issue Group brings together our media and investment initiatives as well as a diverse and pioneering range of new solutions, all of which aim to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. Learn how you can change lives today.

Recommended for you

Read All
Orlam by PJ Harvey review: Singer-songwriter's poetry book is a rich and unwieldy epic
Book reviews

Orlam by PJ Harvey review: Singer-songwriter's poetry book is a rich and unwieldy epic

BetterPod: Paris Marx on Silicon Valley and the future of transportation
transport

BetterPod: Paris Marx on Silicon Valley and the future of transportation

What would a world without borders look like?
Books

What would a world without borders look like?

Book reviews: The Candy House and Eyes of the Void
Book reviews

Book reviews: The Candy House and Eyes of the Void

Most Popular

Read All
All the places where kids can eat free during the summer holidays
1.

All the places where kids can eat free during the summer holidays

This Twitter bot is exposing celebrities taking three-minute private jet flights
2.

This Twitter bot is exposing celebrities taking three-minute private jet flights

Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?
3.

Will free school meals and vouchers be offered over the summer holidays?

Estate agents caught saying they don't rent homes to people on benefits
4.

Estate agents caught saying they don't rent homes to people on benefits

Keep up to date with the Big Issue. The leading voice on life, politics, culture and social activism direct to your inbox.