I have lost count of how many times I have been asked why marae can't, or won't, open their doors and provide accommodation for some of the city's homeless.
I have no idea why they don't consider it. They'll have their reasons. I understand nearly 90 per cent of the homeless in Rotorua are Māori, with the majority being Te Arawa families, so perhaps it is a valid question.
Marae are the focal point of Māori communities throughout New Zealand. The families who affiliate to marae know this is where they belong, where they can stand.
It is where their culture and values are reaffirmed and continue to be carried out. Marae are used for meetings, celebrations, funerals, and all major tribal events. They are revered by the living and the place where the dead are farewelled with dignity.
In early times marae were surrounded with families living around and close by.
[My late husband] Theo used to say "our homes kept marae and meeting house warm" and everyone had a hand in ensuring their marae survived and thrived.
Marae have trustees, usually elected, who are responsible for the smooth running of the marae. There is always upkeep, bills to be paid and knowing that at any given time the marae must swing into action to receive a departed loved one with accompanying family and friends.
Normally a three-day commitment.
Marae may have been approached by government agencies, considered and weighed up what was being proposed but then decided "no, not for us".
They don't have to feel pressured to do so. I do wonder though if there was an opportunity for some marae to put their own proposal forward for consideration by government agencies.
Particularly as $8 million has just been spent to buy a motel in the middle of the city.
If one marae permitted 10 portable prefabricated two-bedroom units to be erected this reduces the homeless numbers by 10 families. Ten marae would see 100 families housed, potentially 300 to 400 people.
Some families might jump at the opportunity to live on a marae with other families who know and appreciate what is being offered to them. Where te reo and tikanga classes can be held for those interested; vegetable gardens established and tended, workshops and clinics held and trusted shared care of children is valued and viewed as normal.
Where "sharing and caring" is given true expression and the word motel is never heard and used.
Has any marae had the opportunity to put forward this idea? Has it been considered and then rejected? If rejected was it by government agencies or from homeless families themselves?
There are marae sited within Rotorua city itself and there are those in rural and lakeside locations. They all lend themselves to solving not only a housing problem but can also provide a healing environment as well.
I know we are told motels are a short term solution but five years plus is not short term to me. From experience when governments say short term, this can stretch into years. People get sick of hearing the same old story and what was once a priority gets pushed further down the list.
Marae can do exactly what motels are doing, only better.
They can put together a comprehensive package covering the total needs of the families, a Whanau Ora approach, complete with budget to cover all foreseeable costs. They can provide their own social service providers to assist with the wrap around services required.
Providers who know what's at stake for these families.
Families would receive more than temporary accommodation. They know they would be welcome on the marae. They will not be judged by their current situation and, that their future potential is seen as important too.
They know that rather than being used by the government as meal tickets to pay the mortgages and bills of motel owners, that same money would be paid to marae to help and support them at this time.
It's called social and cultural return on investment. Something no motel can provide.
- Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is chairwoman of the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency, a Lakes District Health Board member and Rotorua District councillor.