Tauranga RSA is stepping up to help the vulnerable victims of the violence and addiction epidemic during the Covid-19 crisis. Cira Olivier reports.
A Tauranga RSA motel has transformed into a one-stop shop where the city's most vulnerable people can gain access to doctors, social workers and a safe place to sleep.
The site opened today to support Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust, which has reached full capacity.
The first family had medical checks today and was welcomed into their home for at least the next 12 weeks and at least six more families would be in by Monday.
The trust has helped 24 families into accommodation across two Tauranga motels with eight social workers responsible for them. These families were all involved with the agency before the Covid-19 lockdown, facing challenges including domestic violence, emergency and transitional housing.
On Wednesday, the trust signed a contract with the Returned Services Association (RSA) that would allow it access to the 22 rooms at its motel in Tauranga for vulnerable people.
Tauranga RSA president Fred Milligan said providing the accommodation would not only help vulnerable families, but also help the organisation stay afloat.
Milligan said when the country went into lockdown, the future of the RSA building looked "dire" with no income through the usual source of the motel.
"It's going to help us a lot ... it could be a saving grace for us."
The agreement allowed for the trust to use the rooms for three months but Milligan said an extension may be possible.
"One of our main principles is welfare and we considered this part of it," Milligan said.
Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust executive director Tommy Wilson said it would solve two problems at once.
There has been $15,000-worth of surveillance installed and 24-hour security would be provided.
Wilson said the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development would pay for the rooms. Several community organisations and Ngāti Ranginui are providing financial support and TECT is funding the food.
"It's a real collaboration between community and governmental departments."
Wilson said it was heart-warming to see the RSA, whose own members could be vulnerable during the crisis, helping people who had been suffering at the hands of violence and addiction.
One example was a mother and her sons who had to be removed recently from their emergency accommodation due to safety fears.
The woman, a family violence victim, had been living in Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust accommodation.
The family had isolated themselves in a single room after drug-related activities and threats from others in a safe house.
Staff feared for the family's safety and with police help moved them to the last place the agency had available.
"We only had one place we could take them to. That's it."
Demand for trust help during lockdown had increased. Wilson said his service had noticed domestic violence cases double in just over two weeks of level 4.
The team has since Wednesday compiling a list of the priority families to be placed into the building guided by long-term thinking.
A Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spokesman said it was in discussions with Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust on developing former RSA accommodation in Tauranga.
HUD currently provides 114 spaces in Tauranga, which are existing motel and accommodation providers and supported by The Peoples Project and Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi.
While the new contract meant safety could be provided to more families, Wilson said it would not match the growing need for emergency assistance that could eventually see a "new norm" of turning people away.
Police recorded a surge in the number of family harm incidents since the lockdown began at midnight on March 25.
Police data of callouts between March 8 and April 8 show that on the first day of lockdown, there were 35 calls to police in the Bay of Plenty which was higher than Thursday's pre-lockdown.
The highest number of callouts was on Sunday, April 5 with 52 calls, 17 more than the highest number of callouts in the weeks leading up to the lockdown.
"The health issues seem to be growing daily, only surpassed by the mental health and addiction issues that trigger violence. That's not going to decrease at all," Wilson said.
Since then, vulnerable people needing emergency accommodation have had to be turned away with no where to put them, a majority of these calls being related to violence and substance abuse.
To say it was worrying was an understatement, Wilson said.
"You're going home at night knowing there are vulnerable people out there that you can't do anything to help until we get help."
Hanmer Clinic, next door to the RSA, would be providing medical assistance to those in the accommodation.
Dr Tony Farrell said the network of professionals the primary care practitioners worked with would be available and referrals would be made.
"Whānau who have become homeless all have a story about how they got there. They say the best assessment tool is a blank piece of paper," Dr Farrell said.
"This is a chance for people to tell their story and to have issues resolved so they can move forward with hope and purpose. This can't be overstated."
There will be a collaboration of agency sectors including health, social services and justice.
"We hope that this is the beginning of something for the future."