7 May 2021

Police, MSD not collecting data on crime at emergency housing

6:54 am on 7 May 2021

The government can't - or won't - say if crime is increasing in and around emergency housing, because the police are not collecting that information.

woman sitting on bed in room with light from window (abuse concept)

MSD does not centrally record incidents of family harm, criminal activity or social disorder in emergency housing. Photo: 123RF

Neither the police nor the Social Development Ministry (MSD) is actively monitoring incidents of crime, violence or family harm in this type of housing, but do encourage people to come forward if they feel at risk.

RNZ has been told numerous stories of people being victimised while living in motels, in what can be intimidating and violent environments - with the police often having to turn up.

More than $900,000 is being spent each day on emergency housing; there are no contracts with providers, and no expectations of a service beyond a typical guest.

Moreover, the numbers are exploding and they include children - about 4,000 at last count.

Housing and social advocates say it is dangerous and totally unacceptable especially for already vulnerable children and women, in some cases escaping abusive relationships.

Some accommodation has been described by one government minister as "inhumane", not "fully safe for everybody" and some made to feel "barely human, seen primarily as a way for commercial motels to make quick money".

MSD, which hands out the grants, says it responds when concerns are raised, but does not "centrally record" incidents of family harm, criminal activity or social disorder.

Police "recognise community concerns about a perceived increase of crime" but do not "collect data specifically in relation to emergency housing".

They were "taking these concerns seriously and were committed to investigating all reports of crime, regardless of where they occur," police said in a statement.

'It is actual crime'

"It's real crime not perceived crime," North Shore resident Josh says. He has spoken previously to RNZ about the spike in crime he's experienced in his suburb, Pine Hill, he now dubs 'Crime Hill'.

The trouble started, he says, when a nearby hotel started operating as emergency accommodation.

"That's happening. I've got it recorded on my videotapes... I've got emails from the police, my reports, so it's not perceived, it is actual crime that is happening."

Talking to police officers who've responded to local incidents, they're clearly "aware of the people staying there and that there is things happening".

"They definitely know all about it and obviously they're there quite often so of course they know about it," Josh said.

Who is making sure it's safe?

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said while police might not collect the data, they were aware of "hotspots" in their own districts.

Police in Waitematā told her "actually, they're not seeing an increase in illegal activity or anti-social behaviour" but did know which motels were providing emergency accommodation.

"They were able to tell me there were a couple of hotspots and motels on the Shore that they were working with the moteliers on because of some of the activity, but the rest they said they'd seen no increase."

"That doesn't mean that that's the case for the whole country," she acknowledged, and getting better police data was something "we can look into".

"And in doing that, we'd probably need to have a conversation about how we do that in a way where we can actually safely, and within the rules, share information."

National MP Nicola Willis said ministers had a "duty of care" to ask for this information "because we know there are perceptions that emergency housing is associated with increases in crime".

"We also know that people living in emergency accommodation have reported that they are seeing crime, drug dealing, violence, and that they're seeing police visits.

"So why don't we get past the perception and get the data?" she asked.

Sepuloni said she would also like more information from MSD about the people involved: "If they have particular needs, whether it be that they are leaving domestic violence, how many of them are leaving domestic violence situations, how many are presenting with mental health issues".

And a "much stronger" message was being sent to motels that the government "won't be using your services anymore because they haven't been up to scratch", she said, with about three so far taken off the list.

Police Minister Poto Williams has never requested nor received any reports about crime in emergency housing, confirmed in responses to written parliamentary questions from National's Simeon Brown.

When offered the opportunity to comment further, her office said she had "nothing to add ... the police recording of crime data is an operational matter" and the responses speak for themselves.

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