Whether they're bunking in a car, living in a garage, tent, caravan, surfing sofas or sleeping on the street, people facing homelessness in the Bay of Plenty can get help from dozens of organisations.
Service providers shelter and feed those in need while competing for a finite pool of money from government providers and philanthropies.
With all the non-profit and government entities in the mix, what's working to move more people from homeless to housed? What's not?
NZME writer Dawn Picken surveyed the landscape of organisations trying to end homelessness and spoke with people whose lives have been changed by having a permanent address.
Shelter from the Storm
It's pouring with rain Wednesday early afternoon as I remove squishy sandals and step into Awhina House. I'm soaked. Manager Angela Wallace hands me a giant, fluffy towel and says a local couple donated the set.
"We want women here to feel welcome."
Tauranga's first women's shelter opened nearly a year ago and so far has housed 40 clients.
"We've had 103 referred and have had to turn some away," Wallace says. Reasons include being full or if a woman's mental health needs require greater care.
A brief tour reveals locked internal security doors and tidy single bedrooms, each one named for a native bird. The communal kitchen features a large dining table. In the lounge, clients can wrap up in homemade rugs while reading donated books. A whiteboard bears the remains of a morning group session from a Hanmer Clinic drug and alcohol counsellor. Words including "integrity," "loyalty" and "respect" are among those ringing a central theme, "Values."
Wallace says addictions counselling is one of many services women can access during their stay, which can last up to 12 weeks. Awhina clients also get budgeting, mental health counselling, CV advice and medical support.
"Imagine if you were living in your car for a few months ... We see women come in with sores all over their legs because of chaffing from sleeping in the car. It's really heartbreaking what you see but we're all about hope here."
Wallace says each guest is on the social housing register, waiting for more permanent accommodation through Housing New Zealand or Accessible Properties. None so far has made the cut.
"People outside the area get placed in affordable housing before our local people ... They work really hard to be able to get into a house, but it's not available."
Women who try their luck in the private market face rejection due to factors like having a criminal record, debt, or being homeless, she says.
"A landlord wants a sure bet, so we're really limited by the housing supply in Tauranga. There's no housing. One woman was applying for more than 10 houses per week and going to viewings. She's been turned down each time."
Staff get creative. One former guest lives in a cabin on someone's property.
Wallace says Awhina House has not received money from central government but they're in talks to do so. The shelter has survived on philanthropic trust money and donations from local individuals and churches.
"We are desperate to keep our service running as it's so needed for Tauranga's homeless women."
Home at Last
Billie Jo Rata was homeless for two years, moving between Tauranga, Whakatāne, Kawerau, Tirau, Palmerston North and Putaruru. Rata says lack of family support following a relationship split landed her and two of her three children in a Putaruru motel last October.
"Work and Income would only give me another four days in a motel and after that we had to find somewhere else."
Not having permanent accommodation was stressful not just for Rata but for her kids too.
"It had become really unstable, moving from school to school. My second youngest, she moved three or four times. She's been in like, five different schools."
Rata tried the private housing market but says finding a place was too hard.
"I kept getting declined for every rental we'd apply for. When you apply for rentals now, it states the houses aren't suitable for children."
A family member connected Rata to Visions of a Helping Hand Charitable Trust in Rotorua. The Tarewa Rd shelter was home before organisation founder Tiny Deane and his staff found Rata a two-bedroom home to call her own.
"It's given me all my independence back."
Rata wants to get into caregiving work at a rest home or hospital by the time her youngest child is 1.
"I've got all three of my kids back now. It's nice and settled and stable for them. They're a lot happier."
Deane and his wife sold a rental property and re-mortgaged their home to start Visions.
He says Rata is just one example of people the organisation serves by providing three shelters and services to ensure clients will be good tenants.
The former truck driver says the Tarewa Rd shelter for women and children has 64 beds and is "absolutely chocka." Two to three families move each week to more permanent accommodation.
"Me and my wife guarantee the rent. We do it personally. If we didn't, our mums and children wouldn't have homes. We teach our mums how to be ready to go into a flat."
Guests help clean the shelter, do laundry and must be home each night by 10pm. There's kai in the cupboards and supplies for everyone.
"When a family comes in and they have nothing, they get everything - personal items, toothbrush, toothpaste ... It's not judgemental, it's just, 'here you go, and I hope this fits.'"
Visions of a Helping Hand gets money from governmental and philanthropic trusts. It has seen 31,653 bed nights since opening in 2017. It's not all roses, though: Visions' night shelter for rough sleepers in central Rotorua has some business owners angry about streeties begging and criminal behaviour.
Deane says he wants to build a tiny home community in the country for these men, especially since many Rotoruans don't want homeless people hanging out in parks, where he brings men from the shelter to spend the day.
"Even mates ring me, going, 'What the f*ck have you done to Kuirau Park?'"
More Money, More Projects
Housing Minister Megan Woods last week visited Rotorua to announce the Government would launch a "place-based assessment" of Rotorua's housing problem to address its status as a "homeless hotspot."
Woods said the Rotorua Lakes Council, Te Arawa and Kāinga Ora were already working together to identify vacant land suitable for transitional and public housing.
National MP for Rotorua, Todd McClay, said residents would be "deeply disappointed" to hear the Government had started a working group for a problem that had been obvious for two years.
"You can't house a homeless person in a meeting."
McClay said solutions included capping the number of people who could stay in emergency accommodation at motels and "transitioning" homeless people who were from out of town back to their original community, as the majority of homeless were not from Rotorua.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the city was a caring community that needed long-term solutions. She said more Government help would enable Rotorua to tackle other issues such as inner-city safety and remove the need for an emergency shelter downtown.
"We don't support options for people who want to live a homeless lifestyle and there is also no tolerance in our community for any disorderly behaviour of any type."
Chadwick said the city needed more police, mental health and other community services to treat drug and alcohol abuse and family violence.
Te Arawa Lakes Trust chairman, Tā (Sir) Toby Curtis said he was pleased to see progress being made on the Rotorua housing plan.
The announcement reinforced the Government's commitment toward "this important kaupapa".
The Government last month announced new funding for emergency housing which includes 1000 extra places for homeless families and individuals.
The $300 million package aimed to reduce use of motels as emergency accommodation.
It also required those using emergency housing to start paying rent for the first time at maximum rate of 25 per cent of their income.
A Ministry of Housing and Urban Development document showed the Rotorua District had the highest number of people on the social housing register in the quarter ending December 31 (479 compared with Tauranga's 393).
It also had the highest number of emergency housing grants: 3009 emergency housing special needs grants were approved for Rotorua, at a cost of nearly $4.5m.
Clients in Tauranga City, 1.8 times the population of the Rotorua District, were approved for 1213 grants at a cost of $1.6m.
Love Soup, which helps feed homeless people in Rotorua five nights a week, will celebrate its sixth birthday next month. Co-founder Elmer Peiffer says the area's experienced a big homeless boom going back two years.
"We're seeing all sorts: people living in the streets, people living in cars, boarding in people's garages, people in emergency accommodation, families, individuals."
Peiffer says the housing shortage is a problem for working-class families, let alone people struggling with homelessness.
"We definitely need more land freed up and more houses built."
Transition to Home
Tauranga Moana Nightshelter Trust runs Takitimu House in the CBD. Staff say nearly 1000 men have stayed at the house since it opened in 2014 but many more have received services such as trauma, addiction and mental health counselling, medical treatment, judicial help and whānau reconnection. The shelter ran at full capacity last year and houses up to 20 men each night.
"We want them to feel like this is their home while they are here. Whanaungatanga, aroha and manaakitanga are a big part of our kaupapa."
Te Tuinga Whānau offers free social work and other services including transitional housing and long-term support.
Executive director Tommy Kapai Wilson says the 34-year-old charity does 4000 interventions per year. Earlier this week, he said 117 families were living in 36 places ranging from motel rooms to homes, with another 50 waiting.
"A lady we put in a house last week, she's been waiting three years. We prioritise it, and when they're done with us we know they're going to be good tenants so they don't keep coming back."
Wilson says 95 per cent of Te Tuinga Whānau clients are Māori, and 75 per cent are not from Tauranga.
"They don't have an iwi support system, they don't have a marae, an iwi, a hapū. What works is when we connect them."
He says Te Tuinga Whānau staff also help clients build self-worth by teaching skills such as budgeting and cooking. He believes elderly people will be the newest homeless wave.
"When they've tapped out their KiwiSaver and can't afford market rent, that's going to be the next crisis in Tauranga."
The Salvation Army's work with the community's most vulnerable people spans more than 125 years in Tauranga, according to Community Ministries manager Davina Plummer.
She says the Tauranga branch provides support including emergency food and clothing, plus help finding emergency housing. The organisation has 18 transitional homes in Tauranga with wrap-around supports, including providing basic furniture and homewares.
In Rotorua, community ministries director Kylie Overbye says 90 per cent of Salvation Army clients claim to be homeless, although it's tough to measure accurately.
Overbye says the first port of call is Work and Income, which can get a quote from participating hoteliers for accommodation to get people off the streets. The Sallies also offer a six-week 'ready to rent' course covering topics like landlord expectations, Ministry of Social Development products and services and finances. In addition, she says staff work to build trust with clients.
"We work with individual cases. We advocate for people, and give people options available to them depending on the specifics of their need. We work together with the wealth of agencies in Rotorua to help get people to the right avenues of support for them."
Under-supply and over-demand
Providers we spoke with say there aren't enough homes in the Bay for everyone who needs one. They say the Government isn't building enough affordable housing while emphasising the fact even people with good jobs and credit scores find it difficult in a crowded market to find a home.
Tauranga, ranked the world's fifth most unaffordable place to buy, had a median house value of $675,000 last month, up three per cent from February 2019, according to OneRoof.conz. Rotorua District's median value was nearly $470,000, up 8 per cent year-on-year. REINZ reported the median house price for the wider Bay of Plenty for January 2020 at $683,000, up nearly 18 per cent from $580,000 in 2019.
Simon Wilson, in an NZME commentary late last month, highlighted research from social scientist Kay Saville-Smith showing successive governments have spent less and less money throughout the decades building low-cost housing.
Decades of data showed dwindling government investment in homes resulted in a decrease of new builds in the lower quartile of value.
Saville-Smith said demand, construction costs and other factors played a role, but Wilson explains, "the pattern remained remarkably consistent: the proportion of new homes in the lower quartile rose when government spending on housing rose and fell when the spending fell".
"Then it all went off a cliff."
Wilson writes in 1986, more than two-thirds of funding was stripped and the long-term downward trend became a catastrophic slide continuing all the way into the 1990s.
The current Labour coalition government scrapped its Kiwibuild programme late last year which had aimed to construct 100,000 homes in 10 years. Housing Minister Megan Woods admitted the goal was "overly ambitious" and meant houses were being built in places with little demand.
Instead, the Government plans to build as many homes as quickly as it can while measuring success on a housing dashboard.
More than 200 KiwiBuild homes were finished by the middle of last year, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development's 2018/2019 annual report.
Newshub last November reported the Government couldn't sell KiwiBuild homes to Housing New Zealand because of design issues - namely, the bedrooms were too small.
According to the Housing and Urban Development website, no KiwiBuild homes are available in the Bay of Plenty.
Other Organisations in the Housing Mix
Around 40 groups in Tauranga alone either provide housing or services to people who need a home. Their local market experience ranges from a few months to several decades.
Last November, Community Finance entered the Tauranga affordable housing market to raise low-cost finance for local housing providers like the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity. Plans are under way in Bethlehem to build 99 free-market and social homes and an on-site daycare centre. The government will help pay the rent.
Chief executive James Palmer told Newstalk ZB in December while the Government is putting money into the housing problem, as a country we've under-invested for 30 years.
"We're desperately playing catch-up now."
The People's Project started operating in Tauranga in 2018. Its approach prioritises supporting people straight from the street into a permanent, stable home. Tauranga Service manager Simone Cuers says the People's Project is backed by more than 20 years of evidence and is proven to have ended homelessness for more than 80 per cent of clients.
"Every person seeking assistance receives wraparound support for as long as it is needed."
Cuers says services help someone achieve health and wellbeing goals and to be a good tenant and neighbour.
She says a Tauranga City Council initiative counted 80 people sleeping rough in 2018. At the time, a group of stakeholders called Our Community Project came together that included local, regional and district councils, shelters, service providers, the District Health Board, Te Puni Kōkiri, Police and iwi Ngāti Ranginui.
Council manager for community development Meagan Holmes says there's no national system to maintain an accurate count of homeless people.
"Actual numbers for homelessness are impossible to measure considering that homelessness includes people residing in temporary accommodation e.g. motels, sleeping in cars, overcrowded housing and uninhabitable housing."
Tauranga City Council has allocated around $124,000 in its current budget for homeless people, a local service provider and strategy development, according to numbers provided to NZME.
Accessible Properties took over the majority of Tauranga's former Housing New Zealand portfolio in 2017. Today, Tauranga general manager Vicki McLaren says around 3500 people are housed in 1159 Accessible Properties homes. At the end of last month, 455 people were on a waiting list.
A plan to increase new supply by at least 300 homes within 10 years is dependent on central and local government funding, McLaren says.
"We are on track to deliver the 150 over our first 10 years, as required by our contract with Housing and Urban Development. The additional 150 will be subject to partnership with the Crown and Council."
Established in December 2003, the Tauranga Community Housing Trust provides affordable housing to people with disabilities and those on lower incomes. TCHT has about 200 homes and units throughout the Bay of Plenty and 19 transitional homes in Papamoa. It receives support from the Ministries of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Social Development.
Tying it Together
Another charitable trust, Socialink, seeks to connect the Bay of Plenty's 240 or so non-profit organisations, about 40 of which provide housing or other services to the homeless. General manager Liz Davies says people need to know who's doing what and how to work together to achieve greater impact.
"If we could get people before they set up their charity, to talk to them and say, 'Wait a minute, there's already xyz in this space, and you could contribute before you set up your programme, or go under someone else's umbrella.'"
Davies says non-profits are competing for the same pool of money and volunteers. She says a Socialink co-ordinator helps agencies work collectively, rather than individually.
"These are hard conversations to have. We're talking about people's jobs and they're very, very passionate."
Meanwhile, people like Tiny Deane of Rotorua say they'll continue serving homeless people while the wheels of council and central government turn.
"I think Megan Woods, the [Housing] Minister and mayor and councillors ... I think what they announced last Wednesday was brilliant ... if they can make that [more housing] happen, it'll resolve a few problems but it's the now and here that I'm worried about."
By the Numbers: Ministry of Housing and Urban Development
Bay of Plenty region, as at end of December 2019:
• Partnered with six registered Community Housing Providers to provide more than1200 public housing tenancies.
&bull: Contracted with nine additional Transitional Housing Providers to provide more than 269 transitional housing places.
&bull: HUD partner Housing First placed 55 households into homes in Tauranga (56 as of March 4)
• 22 households housed in Rotorua delivered by Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake in partnership with Lifewise and LinkPeople.
Food and Shelter
*Note: not a complete provider list. For more non-profit social services visit https://socialink.org.nz/