Iwi around the country are stamping their mark on the business world and providing employment opportunities, health, education, social services and cultural connections. Carmen Hall spent a week with Ngāi Te Rangi and got a rare insight into the iwi's operations. This is part six in the series.
Emergency accommodation is being used as a dumping ground for people with serious mental health and other issues - and a lack of information sharing is placing support workers and other clients at risk, social agencies say.
Ngāi Te Rangi social worker Patrick Mitchell, who has 20 years of experience in the field, says in his view, motels and transitional housing have become a refuge for some people who would have been in specialised community care in the past.
Mental health history is also often withheld by the Ministry of Social Development under the Privacy Act and getting consent can be time-consuming and difficult, he claimed. This could place staff and other clients at risk.
"People are suffering from the impact of the housing crisis. They are dealing with the consequences through no fault of their own.
"The problem has been exasperated by Covid and mental health services who are struggling to cope ... under-resourced and overworked."
Ngāi Te Rangi has a transitional housing apartment block that can accommodate up to 33 people including families, and also works with about 17 people living in motels.
"One of the drawbacks we are seeing is clients are coming to us and we are not getting the necessary information regarding their health issues. MSD is not forthcoming in this department ... they throw the Privacy Act in our face."
Mitchell said they used to meet people who had been referred to their services in person but procedures had changed for safety reasons.
"I don't want my staff to get injured or hurt and go to the hospital instead of going home. So there is that concern for us as providers but our other overarching concern is if we don't take them who will?
"Are we just consigning them to homelessness or worse outcomes because of their mental illness?"
The iwi provider now met with ministry case managers and clients so they could decide what information they wanted to disclose, including health and criminal records.
Ngāi Te Rangi senior social worker Trish Britton said the problem was also affecting those on sickness or disability benefits. She also felt it was important support agencies knew the criminal history of potential clients - particularly if someone had convictions for child sex abuse.
"We are not a mental health unit and we are not supposed to look after someone until they die if they are seriously ill."
She acknowledged more people may be declined if all their information was released but knowing in advance if someone was unable to climb stairs or needed additional health support made sense.
Britton agreed staff and other clients could be in danger. She said it was important to know if someone was a criminal as there were children at the apartments.
At the moment it was up to the clients how much information they disclosed and Ngāi Te Rangi required a consent form.
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services executive director Tommy Wilson said it had a filter system "so we know before we accept those marginal, potential clients".
However, Wilson said motels were becoming a "dumping ground".
"We know there's 95 homeless people living on the streets that need social surgery. They have intensive mental health issues. We haven't got the capacity or qualified staff to even start looking after them."
Ministry of Social Development housing group general manager Karen Hocking said its priority was to make sure people with an immediate housing need, who would otherwise be homeless, had somewhere to stay regardless of their past.
"Information ... disclosed to us by our clients is shared with public housing providers. Our clients sign a housing consent form to allow this, but we can only disclose what is shared with us by our clients."
Clients can appoint a social agency to become their agent, which allows the ministry to share their information.
"If someone tells us they don't feel safe, we will work with them to identify alternative accommodation, if available, and encourage them to report any criminal activity to the police.
"We make regular visits to emergency accommodation suppliers to make sure any concerns raised with us regarding health, safety and sanitation standards are being addressed."
Privacy Commissioner Liz MacPherson said the Privacy Act sets out that an organisation should generally only share personal information they have collected if that was in line with the purpose for which it was collected.
Agencies should make clear when they were collecting personal information who it may be shared with and for what purpose.
The Act contains an exception if the organisation believes on reasonable grounds that disclosing the information is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat to someone's health or safety, she said.
"Depending on the situation, this exception may apply here."