As a Tauranga father and son mark their second Christmas living in a tent to protest the city's "spiralling housing crisis", two mayors are planning action on poverty and housing.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell and his Western Bay counterpart Garry Webber are in talks to form a conjoint mayoral taskforce to tackle the pressing issues of poverty and housing.
Tauranga's housing problems are well documented. The city's average weekly rent grew by $40 last year, demand continues to outstrip supply and the housing market was ranked the world's eighth most expensive in 2019.
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Powell, three months into his role, said it was clear he had "inherited significant challenges that need to be addressed together".
They included poverty, homelessness, the shortage of housing stock and issues with traffic and infrastructure.
"What is clear to me as a newcomer to the city's homeless crisis that while there are considerable efforts to address it, all the various agencies are operating in silos.
"The taskforce will bring the various agencies together, assess the resources and make a plan to conquer this."
Powell declined to reveal the specific mechanics of the taskforce until more planning and consultation had been done.
The groups he hoped to involve spanned the health, social services and law enforcement sectors, as well as funders, ranging from Government agencies to small local groups who work with the city's homeless.
He knew similar groups had been formed before, but said this one would be "less hui, more do-ey".
He said the council was also gathering data about the scale of the problems and how to measure them.
The council told the Bay of Plenty Times it was in the early days of working on a sub-regional homelessness strategy.
A new headcount of the city's homeless was also a possibility for the first half of 2020.
This was last done in 2017 and found 70 rough sleepers as well as 400 "hidden homeless" - including people living in cars, emergency housing or on friend's couches.
Webber said the Western Bay council was supportive of looking into the homelessness situation.
"We also see housing supply as an issue, they go hand in glove.
"It's important the two councils work together because it's not just a Tauranga issue, it goes right across the region in places like Te Puke and Katikati and other areas as well as Tauranga City."
Powell emphasised the need to move quickly on the issues.
"When you have a 41-year-old man spending a second Christmas living in a tent with his five-year-old - who cannot even go to school because he has no permanent address - we need to act right now, and move fast and cannot let the legacy of bureaucracy of the former council hold us up locking in long-term solutions."
Shortly before Christmas, Powell visited 41-year-old Louis Moeau and his son Ice in their home for the last year - at tent under a large fig tree at Arataki Reserve in Mount Maunganui.
The Bay of Plenty Times first revealed their story in June last year, and more than six months later, little has changed except they are both older and the city's housing crisis has moved into the next decade.
Moeau is holding out for a state house in Mount Maunganui, which he understood he would be provided when he transferred from a state house in Gisborne seven years ago.
He wants to be in Mount Maunganui to be near his whanau - his mother and two brothers live nearby - as well as close to medical specialists, and because he wants Ice to attend Omanu Primary School.
He says he has been offered emergency and transitional housing in other areas but turned it down as it was either only temporary, not affordable, or in an area where he had no connections.
"The home should be that homestead where whanau and friends of all generations live, work and learn in the community."
Even if someone offered to buy him a house, Moeau said he wouldn't take it unless it was in that area as he did not want to leave his mother who he said needs him.
"She has health issues and needs me nearby but couldn't have us living there. She's had a hard life ... and she suffers because of it still and has to live alone."
He was also taking a political stance to show other people caught up in the city's homeless crisis that they are "not alone".
Camping on the council-owned land, the family's only access to toilets and water was the council toilets on the park. These are locked after 5pm.
He cooks on a barbecue and has a makeshift wooden table and "lounge" area of squashy seats.
Ice has plenty of toys - even a train set. Homely touches include a rock garden built around a feature in the shape of the Southern Cross, positioned to capture the exact point the sun rises and falls.
He has two sets of neighbours: those in the bricks and mortar houses which surrounding the park, and other more elusive neighbours who pull up after 5pm in cars and vans - like Moeau without permanent homes.
"I know myself how great the problem is because every night after 5pm there will be cars of men, women and children lining up - many come after five because they have jobs. But they still can't afford to rent, or find a rental."
He was impressed by the mayor's visit.
"That is a first. I looked out of the tent and he had just rocked up on his scooter. I feel like there is an awakening in the air, a real sense that here is a strong leader who can action change."
Moeau is supported in the protest by community health worker Rachel Axis.
Axis recently appealed to the local community to try to understand the philosophy around the protest.
"People can be so quick to judge people's past. We all have pasts. They don't have to define our futures. It saddens me that there are some in the community who bitch and moan rather than try to understand this problem is all our problem," she said.
"He doesn't want pity. He doesn't want food or clothes as gifts. He wants the situation in New Zealand to change. He wants action from the government - not just for him but for the whole crisis."
Moeau points the finger of blame at central government.
"There's just a sense of increasing outrage from all different types of people in the city that this is not okay: people with their partners and children in parks, or shifted by the government into campgrounds and motels and left there for so long. They are not home environments for people. And they so expensive.
"Why is nothing being done? It is getting worse."
Powell said there was only so much a mayor could do and central government must come to the party.
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, leader of the National Party, said Tauranga would continue to have serious housing shortages until the Government got serious about housing in the city.
"What's required is Government partnering with Accessible Properties [majority owner of public housing in Tauranga] to turn our large old state houses into many more warm dry homes that are right-sized and fit for purpose.
"Only central Government has the ability to do this and National is calling on Labour to do so. Two years and billions of dollars have already been wasted and we can't lose any more time. No more talkfests. Action is what we need."
Associate Housing Minister Kris Faafoi pointed the finger back at the previous National government, in which Bridges was a minister.
He said the Government was "working hard to address the shortage of public housing supply created through the previous government's general lack of action and sell-off of state housing stock."
"If National had delivered state housing places at the same rate this Government is delivering them, rather than leaving New Zealand with 7500 fewer state houses over their time in government, there wouldn't be a waiting list for public housing today."
Asked about Moeau's situation, Faafoi said he had asked the Ministry of Social Development to look into his case again. He encouraged Moeau to work with the ministry.
Powell and Webber have also spoken to Tommy Wilson of Te Tuinga Social Support Services, which has been providing transitional housing in Tauranga for four years.
Wilson said he had seen various groups set up to tackle housing issues before but this one seemed different and he was confident it would work.
"What has to be different with this focus group, from the ones we have walked away from in the past, is it has to be kaupapa-based with tikanga as its foundation.
"Our community kingpins, our civic leaders and our iwi rangatira need to put the right people in the right positions who know who and what they are dealing with."
The group needed to be able to differentiate between those in genuine need and "beggars and opportunists", and focus on empathy rather than sympathy.
"It is the people's taskforce. In this bay that has plenty, there is enough for everyone if we are strategic with our empathy and focus on putting the right people in the right place at the helm of our goodwill waka."
- Additional reporting Samantha Motion