‘Told to move on’: Rough sleepers describe restless nights in Rotorua

5:46 pm on 28 February 2024
Elaine Sawyer and Anaru Hauiti spoke to Local Democracy Reporting about their experience sleeping rough in Rotorua.

Elaine Sawyer and Anaru Hauiti spoke to Local Democracy Reporting about their experience sleeping rough in Rotorua. Photo: Daily Post / Andrew Warner

As homeless are told to leave his city's reserves, Anaru Hauiti thinks about a night shelter - a safe place that could help keep him from the bottle.

The problem for Hauiti is there is not one in Rotorua.

Hauiti spoke to Local Democracy Reporting at Rotorua's lakefront, in a public reserve where rough sleepers are told to move on or face being trespassed by Rotorua Lakes Council or the police.

He sat on a roll mat under a tree, partner Elaine Sawyer wrapped in a blanket next to him.

The couple, who met in rehab, said they had been asked to leave reserves before, including police trespassing Hauiti from one for intoxication.

"We move to different places to be told to move on," Sawyer said.

While Sawyer was able to find accommodation, Hauiti could not. She did not want to leave him.

Sawyer was new to sleeping rough but Hauiti said he had been homeless for about 20 years. His lack of references and the costs were among reasons finding permanent accommodation had been hard.

Cheap alcohol was his way to fall asleep, he said.

His addiction issues were the main reason he slept rough, he said.

He believed living near other addicts in transitional or emergency housing was detrimental to him.

Hauiti previously stayed at night shelters that required guests to want help to be sober, and said he believed this was key. Security was also necessary, he said.

If Rotorua had one, he would "love" to stay there and avoid the fractured sleep on the streets, waking at noises to check his things were not being stolen.

Hauiti said he and Sawyer spent the prior two nights on a friend's van seat: "I could put my head down and actually sleep … I was comfortable and safe."

Hauiti said it made him feel good mentally, and he did not need to drink to nod off.

These were the benefits he believed a shelter could provide.

Visions of a Helping Hand chief executive Tiny Deane at the opening of the Sanctuary Manaakitanga night shelter on Pukuatua St in 2018.

Visions of a Helping Hand chief executive Tiny Deane at the opening of the Sanctuary Manaakitanga night shelter on Pukuatua Street in 2018. Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / Ben Fraser

Is there demand for night shelter in Rotorua?

There has not been a night shelter in Rotorua since 2020.

Two years before, more than 100 people marched in the Hikoi for the Homeless to ask authorities for one.

Tiny Deane, chief executive of the then-newly formed, Visions of Helping Hand Trust, set one up on Eruera Street that soon closed because of compliance issues. He opened a new shelter on Pukuatua Street in August 2018.

Rotorua Lakes Council covered some costs of the trust's temporary night shelter in the interim.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, rough sleepers and night shelter guests were moved to motels to isolate safely.

There has been no dedicated night shelter since.

Deane told Local Democracy Reporting there were many positive outcomes for clients of the previous shelter, along with the "expected challenges".

"There is a current need that could provide positive benefits for shelter users and the community overall, but it would only be successful if it were adequately resourced in terms of security, facilities and wrap-around support for the clients/users."

The council said it was not aware of demand for one.

Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Jacob Davies said it encouraged those facing homelessness to talk to its team about potential emergency accommodation and financial assistance for independent housing.

Davies said it could refer people to support to address their housing barriers.

It did not have data on how many rough sleepers had sought help since August.

Everyone's situation was different, Davies said, and complex circumstances may lead to someone sleeping rough.

The ministry worked with Rotorua housing hub Te Pokapū to ensure emergency housing policies were applied "consistently and carefully", including in assessments for emergency housing support.

Rough sleepers told to move on

Records of staff updates to the council's Community and District Development Committee since October described the approach to homeless and illegal campers in reserves.

Its Safe City Guardians had done checks of the reserves for years.

The council previously said geothermal conditions and a lack of ablution facilities posed health and safety risks for rough sleepers, who often left rubbish, while some could pose safety risks to others.

People were moved on from reserves if they refused help. Police were called if there was any intimidation.

Between August and October six people were trespassed, with two more since.

By the December update, most rough sleepers were "well known to the team".

"Several rough sleepers have moved on or entered accommodation, most left of their own accord and trespassing was a last resort.

"We prefer to engage and offer advice and referrals to support services." It also advised of permitted camping spots.

"The team can recommend who to go to depending on what is needed, such as MSD or Te Pokapū for housing or Love Soup and Feeding Rotorua food banks for food."

It could take several interactions to form trust between a rough sleeper and the team offering help, Gaston said.

"The council did not record where people went when told to leave reserves. The team regularly speak with the same four to six people who refuse all offers to be connected to support services."

Community and district development group manager Jean-Paul Gaston told Local Democracy Reporting the public reported 16 rough sleepers since August.

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