Allison is a digital reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times

Rent-free housing to open doors

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Rent-free emergency housing in downtown Tauranga will see its first family move in on Sunday.

Yesterday afternoon Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell cut the ribbon at the gate of the house, which will house three families for up to 10 weeks. It will be a place of stability and safety while they receive help to find more medium- to long-term housing.

Only two weeks ago Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust was gifted the premises by Tauranga Moana Maori Trust to use for its project Whare 4 Whanau, which hoped to see Tauranga homeless-free by 2020.

Since then, a flood of acts of kindness from the community and plenty of late nights combined to open the doors at No.7 The Strand.

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The vacant office building was transformed into a three-bedroom home, with a lounge, kitchen, laundry, two showers, three toilets and a yard with a small playground.

A two-month job was completed in a quarter of the time by an army of tradesmen and volunteers - at one point there were 16 tradesmen working furiously together in the house. A building company, Renovations Sorted, donated men and time. Tom Roper from Zariba Holdings donated a kitchen including all the appliances and filled the fridge with food. Bay Radiology had dropped off wooden play furniture for the garden including a mini marae and kitchen for children to play in.

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust executive director Tommy Wilson said the house would see 100 people or 20 families live in it a year.

Te Tuinga Whanau would vet the families, making sure they would be drug- and alcohol-free.

He said Te Tuinga Whanau hoped this rent-free house would be just the beginning.

"If we can do this here we can do it anywhere, starting with Merivale.

"That would be 40 families and we have 41 families on our books. Homelessness could be knocked out."

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust social services manager Piki Russell said one of the key things that had happened was the outpouring of help from multiple levels in the community.

"It's not just the frontline people, it's business people, tradespeople, affluent members of the community.

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"They all have come together and without them this would not be happening."

She said after families had been moved in some of the focus would shift to the second building at the back, which would serve as a facility for other homeless families to have a hot shower and cook hot food for two hours in the morning and at night.

Someone would also be there to engage with those who came.

Ms Russell said they had been inundated with donations.

Once they had been sorted through they would be able to identify what else was needed.

The original idea had been to just throw some mattresses on the floor, until project manager and architect designer Michael Wiltshire became involved.

Mr Wiltshire heard about Whare Tauranga through friends, and had some time between projects so he jumped on board to help.

"Te Tuinga had low expectations for what they could do in the time period."

The end product was a home that would last the wear and tear of 20 families a year, with each bedroom comfortably fitting six people.

He said the house was put together in no ordinary circumstances.

"But those working on it bought into it. People were doing things to help you wouldn't be able to ask them to do for any other project."

Mr Wiltshire and his son spent one night painting from 9.30pm to 5.30am, popping home for an hour of sleep then back to the house for another full day of work.

"It was exhausting but every moment was humbling."

The house would give families a chance to get on an even keel in life, he said.

Visiting friends asked what they could do to help when they found out what Mr Wiltshire was doing. The next day $4000 worth of curtains and bedding showed up at the house. On the same day Tauranga Moana Maori Trust Board gifted the building Minister Te Ururoa Flavell and his team at Te Puni Kokiri contributed $10,000 which was immediately matched by Paul Adams.

Mr Flavell said the result was "pretty amazing".

"Big ups to Te Tuinga Whanau and the entire community that pitched in."

He said it showed anything could be done, and emphasised the wraparound services that the families who moved into the home would need.

Mr Adams said the opening of Whare Tauranga was a great first step.

"This has to be replicated in Merivale and Greerton to keep the momentum going," he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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