29 Jul 2021

Ministry has no clue on where 42 percent who left Covid-19 motels went

12:07 pm on 29 July 2021

The government placed nearly 4000 people in motels as part of its Covid-19 response but does not know where almost half of them exited to.

Families take what can with them to emergency housing in a motel at $190 per night

In total, 3826 people were placed in motels under the ministry's Covid-19 response by March this year. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spent $76 million on motels and services as part of its Covid-19 response from the first lockdown in March last year until the end of March this year, data released to RNZ under the Official Information Act shows.

That is in addition to what it spends on emergency and transitional housing, which costs more than $1 million a day.

Almost 4000 people were provided accommodation in motels last year as part of the ministry's response to the pandemic.

They were people sleeping rough on the streets, or living in communal facilities, or crowded houses where it was difficult to limit contact with others. The majority were in Auckland and the Bay of Plenty.

In total, the ministry had placed 3826 people in motels under its Covid-19 response by March this year and 1000 of them remained in "Covid-19 motels" - as the ministry calls them - as at 31 March.

In a statement, ministry spokesperson Anne Shaw said the homeless were provided tailored support for as long as they needed through the Housing First or Rapid Housing programmes.

"The government has committed to ensuring that people accommodated in motels do not need to return to homelessness and has provided funding for people to remain in motels with wrap around support services whilst longer-term accommodation is found," she said.

But despite the aim being to transition the homeless into longer term housing, the ministry does not know the housing outcome for 42 percent of the Covid-19 motel exits.

It did, however, say that of the original cohort of 1500 in the first lockdown last year, 308 were still in Covid-19 motels as at December last year, and 805 people had transitioned into longer term housing.

"Even with a strong public and transitional housing build programme focused on new builds, the significant increase in demand means we haven't yet been able to identify longer-term accommodation for everyone currently accommodated in short-term Covid-19 housing," Shaw said.

There were gaps in the ministry's data because it required agencies and providers to work "at pace" in response to the pandemic, Shaw said.

Providers did not have to submit comprehensive reporting for months after the lockdown, and some did not submit in full.

"We are always looking to improve the quality and timeliness of our data and, under the Aotearoa New Zealand Homelessness Action Plan, we are working to improve our data and evidence on homelessness," Shaw said.

"This includes working with providers to better understand the outcomes for people and whānau who use transitional housing and other housing support services."

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