Seven Sharp tours a  'happening' Christchurch  poverty hot spot.

IN AUGUST 2013 Earthquake Recovery minister Gerry Brownlee claimed yet again that there was "absolutely no evidence of a housing crisis in Christchurch."

Four months later, in December, officials from Ministry of Housing, Innovation and Employment told a meeting with Christchurch City councillors that they estimated that there were 7,000 homeless people in the city. They warned that the situation would deteriorate further in 2014.

There is no evidence that the situation is improving in 2015. People are still living in overcrowded conditions, in garages, in cars, in caravans parked on someone's front lawn (as a couple near me are doing).

The lack of housing ,combined with the skyrocketing rents, means that Christchurch's housing crisis remains unacceptable for any country that claims 'first world' status.

Despite this, the national media has shown only cursory interest in what is happening in the city. Such has been the disinterest that National MP Nicky Wagner, shortly before the election, was able to get away with the outrageous claim that there were "only thirty genuinely homeless people in Christchurch."

According to Wagner you are not homeless if you happen to have somewhere to sleep. If you are sleeping in a garage, in overcrowded conditions or perhaps even in a cardboard box, Nicky Wagner thinks you have a home.

Presumably the accommodation provided by slum landlord Peter Skilling fits Wagner's definition of a home. For the last two years he has been raking in some $3000 a week by providing accommodation for twenty men with nowhere else to go. For $20 a day these lucky men are able to living in accommodation that most people would not house their pet dog in.

He has now been closed down by the Christchurch City Council.

But, suddenly, the national media have been interested. Seven Sharp sent a reporter to Skilling's slum with National Party cheerleader  Mike Hosking opining from afar from the comfort of TVNZ's Auckland studio.

This was nothing more than poverty voyeurism, a chance to stare at the poor and desperate and for some people to reaffirm their prejudice that the poor are a breed apart.

Famous observers of poverty like Friedrich Engels and Charles Dickens were making a political point - that it was unacceptable for society to allow such poverty and desperation. Engels, for example, was horrified by the poverty and misery he saw in Manchester. His famous book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, documents not only how people lived, but also explains how this state of affairs could be--and needed to be--changed.

You would not expect the government friendly Seven Sharp  to make such a political point and it didn't. Indeed Hosking thought it legitimate to say that Skilling was providing a service.

Seven Sharp never put the Skilling slum into the context of Christchurch's overall housing crisis. Indeed there was a distinctly distasteful undertow to the story that suggested that Skilling's 'residents' were society's 'undesirables' who had nowhere else to go. It was their fault. The Seven Sharp camera lingered over the young man with a lot of tattoos. This was just exploitative.

The truth, the one that remained unexamined, is that people are forced to live like this because of the government's insistence, to quote Brownlee, that 'the private sector would sort out Christchurch housing".

As I wrote last year “adequate public housing should be a right in any society that claims to care about human need.” When adequate public housing is no longer considered to be a priority it allows parasites like Peter Skilling to move in.


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