14 Dec 2021

Government inaction on emergency housing 'not good enough'

4:32 pm on 14 December 2021

The government has no plans to make any substantial improvements to emergency housing outside of Rotorua until next year.

Housing in Rotorua

File photo: housing in Rotorua Photo: LDR / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post

There are ongoing concerns about the safety of some motels amid reports of increasing levels of family harm, violence and crime, particularly whānau with children, housed in some cases alongside drug dealers and gang members.

The latest figures show there were about 4500 children in emergency accommodation in September.

The police are still refusing to comment on whether crime and violence have increased in and around emergency housing, despite holding a number of reports, and being involved in a lengthy series of email correspondence with other agencies about that very matter. They say they do not "specifically" collect that data.

A pilot has been rolled in Rotorua, where motels are being contracted and better support offered to residents.

There have been efforts elsewhere to boost support, says the government, including linking up clients with managers, a complaints system and regular visit to motels.

But National's Louise Upston says this is a crisis, and New Zealand's most vulnerable are being left in high risk situations, now for potentially months longer.

She continued to hear alarming stories, including a "a stabbing in broad daylight, with a motel that is located next to an educational facility, and a business," she said.

"The neighbours are terrified on a daily basis about what they see there have been complaints to police well before the stabbing, and that motel is still being used for emergency housing."

In another case, a woman with a toddler, and "multiple times a night, the door would be bashed on," Upston said, who then "found out that the person who was previously in that unit was a drug dealer".

"Now, this is a woman who's terrified and has moved out of the motel, and probably will be living in her car for a period of time, because she feels safer than in an MSD [Ministry of Social Development] funded emergency housing. Now that's simply not good enough."

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National Party MP Louise Upston Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Housing Minister Megan Woods said no other major changes would be considered until 2022. She said there was "still a lot that we have to take from what we've learnt in Rotorua".

Covid-19 is once again playing a part. "I'm also very aware that a number of our providers in those other places that we need to work with to do that work in the places where there are the greatest needs have been hugely involved in making sure that we can get vaccination rates up amongst some of the people in emergency and transitional housing", Woods said.

"So all through the August lockdown around the country that we were working with community housing providers to make sure that we could get mobile units, so that work is ongoing and it's certainly our intention to look at other places but we need to complete the pilot in Rotorua."

It's not a question of capacity, she added.

"It's actually making sure we do this properly. Rotorua was a pilot for a reason - it's because this had to happen but it is complex, and we have to make sure that we've got this fit for purpose, Rotorua was our area of highest need.

"If you looked at the ratio of people in emergency special needs motels there we could see it far outstripped anywhere else."

That's not to say "there's not need in other parts of the country, but next year we'll need to have a look at other places," Woods said.

"It might need this quite bespoke arrangement because it's not a one-size-fits all. We have to get on the ground and work very intensively with local providers as well as having an approach from central government."

Transitional housing is one alternative - that provides more stable housing with wrap around support.

The government has ramped up supply bringing the total to about 4700, 3000 of those being delivered since Labour took office.

This is widely accepted as a much better option, but also that it's a longer term plan nowhere near enough to meet current demand.

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