6 Jul 2018

Homeless shaken awake as Rotorua shelter awaits consents

5:44 pm on 6 July 2018

By Matthew Theunissen

Rotorua Lakes Council is rushing through consents for a homeless shelter so people don't have to be shaken awake every half an hour because they're not allowed to sleep there.

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Photo: 123rf

The man who started the shelter, Tiny Deane, is frustrated because the premises is fully equipped for people to have a comfortable night.

But a lack of council fire and structural checks means guests have to stay awake at all hours.

Up to 50 people a night have been using the shelter since it opened a month ago and Mr Deane had been under the impression the council would turn a blind eye to people sleeping.

But he was told yesterday that they had to remain awake until the necessary consents were granted.

As a result, he had to instruct staff to shake homeless guests every half hour in order to comply with the council's rules.

"I was purely just going on the humanitarian side of things. I didn't want anyone to die on the streets of Rotorua through hypothermia and being cold.

"If they were on synthetics [synthetic cannabis] and they just fell asleep without covering themselves up, 'cause down here even last night was I think -2C. She was pretty white on the grass."

Mr Deane said the mattresses were now piled up and guests had to sit on couches.

It had also been necessary to increase security because of people becoming agitated when they were denied their sleep.

One of the guests is aged 87 and several are in their 70s.

A further nine of the homeless have recently found jobs and went to work today without any sleep.

Mr Deane said the council's requirements were unnecessary because the shelter was far safer than the freezing cold streets.

"It's working - this is all working - and I was trying to tell the council: 'Think of the greater picture'," he said.

'It has to be safe'

Rotorua Lakes Council group manager Māori, Gina Rangi, said fire and building consents were being rushed through so people could sleep at the shelter.

She said Mr Deane had agreed that the shelter would not be set up as dormitory-style accommodation.

How Mr Deane enforced that requirement was up to him.

"Mr Deane's working with some of the most vulnerable people in our community and we really take our hats off to him for the work that he's doing to serve them," she said.

"What we had agreed with Mr Deane is that it could operate as a drop-in centre so people could have shelter from the weather. That did not include sleeping facilities because there are concerns about whether the building is safe."

She said letting the homeless people sleep all night posed safety hazards.

"You're working with people who are really vulnerable, may have a number of other issues going on, so it has to be safe," she said.

Ms Rangi said the council was committed to working with Mr Deane and would cover the cost of the consents.

Mr Deane, the co-founder of a charity called Visions for a Helping Hand charity, mortgaged his house in order to set up four centres for the region's homeless.

He remained committed to getting people off the streets and back on their feet.

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