Kyra is the Rotorua Daily Post's police, emergency and court reporter.

Emergency housing 'a plaster' on problem

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HAPPY: Liz Nelson (left) was happy to help Utana Aitupuna find a new home. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
HAPPY: Liz Nelson (left) was happy to help Utana Aitupuna find a new home. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

After three months, close to 50 applications and emergency housing costing the government $1265 for a week, a Rotorua mother of seven has finally found a place for her family to call home.

But she is one of the lucky ones - with local agencies saying there is just not enough housing in Rotorua and one social worker saying forking out thousands on emergency housing is just "putting a plaster on things".

A month ago the Rotorua Daily Post reported that the single mother had been given 90 days to find a new place to live as her landlord wanted to renovate the property she was in.

At the time Utana Aitupuna did not want to be named for privacy reasons, but she has come forward now to try and give others hope.

She is a full time mum to her children - the eldest of which is a teenager - but works part-time. Her husband, who she is separated from, provides support where he can.

The family was unable to find a new home before their 90-day deadline expired.

"We had to move out on Monday by 9am, we had an appointment at WINZ at 9.30am and we got emergency accommodation."

She said the emergency housing had been provided through Book a Bach and cost WINZ $1265 a week.

In the meantime she had been to "close to 50 house viewings" and had family helping her try to find a permanent home. She was repeatedly told her applications were unsuccessful because she had too many children, she said.

But, on Thursday night Ms Aitupuna saw an advert on a private rentals page on Facebook.
Mrs Aitupuna said she knocked on the landlord's door and introduced herself. And not long after she had a new home.

"I was thinking 'what is she going to think, I'm just a random person showing up', but she said she had been inundated with so many calls and messages and she said to me, 'I'm old school, I'd rather meet people'.

"It's a roof over our heads. I was thinking 'am I hearing this right? Is this lady actually going to give this house to me?'

"I was just like 'wow I got a house, I've got somewhere to call my home again'. It's such a big relief, especially just before school starts.

"It's been great having Liz (Liz Nelson, Ms Aitupuna's social worker), just having that comfort and support outside of family."

Mrs Nelson, social worker at Salvation Army Community Ministries, said she saw five to eight people each week who needed emergency housing.

"There's not enough housing in Rotorua, people are having to overcrowd which is leading to evictions.

"Families are living in over crowded houses and they need to move somewhere, but they just can't."

She said she takes them to WINZ and tries to help find them emergency housing.

"But that's not really solving the problem. It feels like we are just putting a plaster on things.

"I helped one single man this week find emergency housing and WINZ is paying $810 a week to house him.

"We could be using that money to at least prevent people from coming into these situations."

Carl Crafar, deputy chief executive, Social Housing, Ministry of Social Development confirmed the Ministry paid $1265 for a week of emergency housing for Ms Aitupuna and her family.

"We absolutely agree that supporting people into sustainable rentals or social housing is the best way to prevent the need for emergency housing.

"However, for people in emergency situations, our priority has to be to address an immediate need. Paying for motel or hotel accommodation may be the only option available.

"We would much prefer to be working with people before their situation becomes desperate - but we need to be clear that in these cases, there may be nowhere else they can go."

Nationwide, applications for a state home increased by 328 to 3877 from the March to June 2016 quarter. The transfer register, or people already housed but wishing to move, increased by 99 to 1135.

"The Government has committed $258 million as part of Budget 2016 to increase the number of social and emergency housing spaces.

"This includes a new emergency housing grant and providing around 3000 emergency housing places per year across the country, with 800 at any one time. The process of contracting for these emergency housing spaces is underway.

"A new emergency housing special needs grant became available on July 1 through Work and Income.

"In most cases the grant does not need to be paid back. The grant will cover actual and reasonable costs of emergency accommodation for up to seven days, and longer in exceptional circumstances."

Mr Crafar said they assessed people's eligibility for social housing, taking into account their full circumstances and depending on the individual circumstances they placed people on the Social Housing Register so they could be matched to a suitable property.

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell has been holding meetings with social services agencies about the growing problem of homelessness in Rotorua.

"A second hui was held with the same providers in the last two weeks to catch up on how the organisations see each other working together.

"Agreement was reached on how to work together without replicating work, or sending clients around in a circle.

"The providers are working together really well now and have a good process happening to ensure whanau are getting the help they need while looking for accommodation.

"Hopefully this will eliminate a lot of stress for families who need help.

"My electorate office is working closely with the organisations involved and I will meet with them again in another month or so to see how things are tracking along."

Love Soup Rotorua co-founder Elmer Peiffer said her organisation had about 22 to 25 families through each week needing food and shelter.

"One of the main issues is when they have been given 40 or 90 days to move out because of renovations and then they can't find anywhere else to move.

"It's a competitive rental market and the cost of the rentals are beyond the price range," Mr Peiffer said.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said social housing was a big issue.

She said she was hearing about a wide range of housing issues, from the emerging issue with homelessness to people struggling to get into rentals with the tight rental market.

"We are feeling the squeeze coming at us from all angles."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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