An organisation at the coal face of Tauranga's hidden homeless fears the vulnerable will be left ''fending for themselves'' as the country locks down to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

And they are not alone as social agencies already dealing with the housing crisis scramble to find temporary accommodation for those most in need and eye up empty motel rooms in the city.

Laura Wood from Under the Stars said it ''is a sad reality, but yes, I do believe many homeless will be fending for themselves not just through the next four weeks, but for months to come''.

''Many have underlying conditions that put them at high risk. Not to mention lots of services will be closing.''


''For now, I wish all homeless could be provided emergency accommodation. That will help them self isolate and they would have access to showers to keep up with hygiene needs.''

Under the Stars fed about 30 people at its Thursday lunch last week and 50 at its Saturday dinner; a drop on the previous week- but 25 did not have an address.

Wood said they had put lots of restrictions in place including social distancing, non-contact food service and the use of takeaway containers.

Names and contact details of everyone who entered the hall were also taken.

''Some are in cars, some in tents on their own, many in makeshift tent camps where several people stay close-by, and one man stays under a local bridge.''

The People's Project service manager Simone Cuers. Photo / File
The People's Project service manager Simone Cuers. Photo / File

The People's Project service manager Simone Cuers said it was aware of about 80 people sleeping rough in the open, in cars or in tents in parks in Tauranga. These numbers did not include those in emergency accommodation, transitional housing, in overcrowded homes or those couch surfing.

It was working with 35 homeless people to try to secure housing and emergency accommodation.

She said those people living in unsheltered situations were more vulnerable to illness, including Covid-19.


During the lockdown People's Project would primarily provide telephone-based advice and guidance to people who contact the service and continue to provide wrap-around tenancy support to existing clients, she said.

''We've always said it takes a community to end homelessness and we would love to hear from anybody who has appropriate accommodation for temporary or long-term tenants at this time.''

The People's Project had housed 57 people since launching in June 2018 and 25 per cent secured social housing while the remainder are in private rental homes. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Te Tuinga Whanau executive director Tommy Wilson said the social agency was currently assisting about 117 families in Tauranga.

Te Tuinga Whanau executive director Tommy Wilson. Photo / File
Te Tuinga Whanau executive director Tommy Wilson. Photo / File

''Those families are all bedded down as we stand. But we are looking at how we can utilise the empty motels we have around Tauranga and marry them up with the need that is coming.''


Wilson said the agency was also aware of prisoners that were coming out of jail and would need somewhere to go.

''If we look again at what is happening in overseas countries where they are early releasing non-violent prisoners, who aren't a threat to the community, so we are preparing for that as well.''

''So rather than wait, we know what's coming and I am thankful that we've been given that window to prepare when some countries may not.''

He said it was business as usual but in a different way as Wilson also focused on keeping his staff safe and strong to deal with the unfolding need for accommodation.

They had given all their clients cheap cell phones and were relying on technology to communicate.

"In this coronavirus crisis where we will be cooking kai for the many, we find that a plate of food is never just a meal on a dish. It is a plate of hope: a message from the community that someone, somewhere cares."

Tauranga Moana Night Shelter Trust, Takitimu House manager Annamarie Angus. Photo / File
Tauranga Moana Night Shelter Trust, Takitimu House manager Annamarie Angus. Photo / File

Meanwhile, Tauranga Moana Night Shelter Trust, Takitimu House manager Annamarie Angus said it was locked down as it had ''very vulnerable men with all sorts of immune-compromised conditions''.

Clients had been told to stay put in the house. The oldest was almost 70.

''What we are trying to do is keep them off the street and if they choose not to do that, then they're going to need to leave. We want to keep the community safe ... and our staff safe.''

The shelter, which was alcohol and drug-free, had 20 beds but as some were shared bedrooms that number had been reduced, she said.

Tauranga City Council community services general manager Gareth Wallis said it was currently liaising with the service providers working across our vulnerable communities to identify the services available to people under Stage 4 lockdown.

''This includes our local shelter and housing providers, food support networks, community centres and advisory services – as well as central agencies such as MSD and the NZ Police. ''We are in the process of pulling the information together and aim to deliver joined-up, clear information to people in need as to which services remain available and where they can go for help.''


While more than 50 people rough sleeping had been housed over the last year here is still a number of people who are experiencing homelessness in Tauranga, he said.

''This year alone council staff have engaged with over 80 people sleeping in tents, vehicles and makeshift shelters across the city. Support agencies continue to work as fast as they can to help these people access housing.''

Ministry for Social Development housing general manager Karen Hocking said it was part of a government-wide response to Covid-19.

''We are working closely, and as quickly as we can, with other agencies to help those who are homeless or sleeping rough.''

''With the move to Alert Level 4 and the closure of our MSD service centres for face-to-face appointments, we know that more people will be relying on us all in the weeks ahead. Alongside HUD, MBIE, and other agencies, we're currently working through the practicalities of how we can continue to help people in need of emergency accommodation.''

A Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spokesperson said it was working closely with Kāinga Ora, community housing and housing first providers to bring on more supply at pace to ensure vulnerable people have suitable accommodation during this difficult time.


Figures from HUD's December quarterly report also show in Tauranga 393 were on the waiting list for public housing up from 344 the quarter before.

Over the same timeframes, the government had spent $1.6 million on 1,213 emergency housing grants up from $1.2m on 1,135 grants.