Community pressure has scuttled plans to house convicted child sex offenders nearby popular swimming holes and a proposed new subdivision that would feature playgrounds and a primary school near Levin.
The Department of Corrections had sent out a letter to neighbouring properties last week showing plans to purchase a three bedroom house in Gladstone Rd with a sleepout to specifically house men with convictions for child sex offences.
There would be capacity to house four men at the property at any one time.
But early yesterday morning, hundreds of residents in the immediate area that were against the proposal learned that the Department of Corrections had now shelved the housing plans.
Those residents had only been made aware of the proposal early last week, and had already held meetings in an attempt to get the decision overturned.
A critical part of the process was community consultation. Earlier this week Corrections officials met with three representatives of the residents group, with Horowhenua mayor Bernie Wanden and National MP Nathan Guy also in attendance.
Concerned Levin resident Dave Sayles said there was a bus stop where children met each morning before school that was less than 100m away.
"They didn't do their homework," he said.
Sayles said he realised child sex offenders had to be placed somewhere, but was concerned about the possibility of reoffending and the unease it would create in the community.
"It's in the wrong place. That's it," he said.
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Levin woman Jane Hodgson, who also lives in the immediate area, was one of more than 60 property owners on an emailing list sharing information.
Hodgson was happy the Department was not proceeding with the proposal, and said there were more than 100 children living within a 1km radius of the proposed residence.
They had originally been told the property would be managed by staff from Healthcare NZ, who would be at the property for eight hours each day, although would provide 24-hour phone support for the occupants.
There were plans to start moving the men into the house once contracts had been signed between Healthcare NZ and the Department of Corrections, and between Healthcare NZ and the property owner.
While nothing had been signed yet, Healthcare NZ already housed people under residential care in a house immediately in front of the proposed new site, which is why the property came to their attention.
Ara Poutama was the government agency that managed the offenders and had engaged Healthcare NZ to help them find employment and connect them to services within the town.
In their letter to residents it said, "Without accommodation services like this, people are more likely to move into social service housing where they won't have the same degree of support and oversight.
"Alternatively, people can end up homeless. This would mean they wouldn't have the same degree of oversight and support that would be available through a supported accommodation service."
Similar residential housing for sex offenders currently existed around New Zealand, with houses in Taranaki and Whanganui.
"The goal is to give them the skills they need to live productive lives on their own. Where possible, we will work to help people return home to their communities and work with their whānau were appropriate.
"Where we can, we support people from the same area they have come from so that they can stay connected to whanau, iwi or support people who help them stay on track."
The men were required to comply with any parole conditions imposed on them, which could include curfews, electronic monitoring, orders not consume alcohol or drugs, and attend relevant rehabilitation programmes.
The Gladstone area had been earmarked as a region for future housing growth in Levin, including plans for parks and a new school in the near future.
Meanwhile, Department of Corrections Regional Commissioner Paula Collins said ultimately the services provided were crucial in helping people live crime free after their release from prison, which led to safer communities.
Collins said community engagement was a critical to setting up new services, and no final decision was made in relation to a proposed service until engagement with local communities.
"We know that without safe and stable accommodation services, people are more likely to end up homeless or residing in less suitable accommodation where they do not have the same degree of support and oversight," she said.
"We know that the location of people convicted for child sex offences is a concern for communities, and we work hard to balance this concern with our obligation to safely manage people in the community."
"Public safety is our top priority and we will be continuing our work to find another suitable property in the Horowhenua region, where there is a significant need for accommodation services."
"We are committed to continuing to openly engage with local communities about our work. Ultimately, we seek to make communities aware that people are less likely to reoffend if they are supported, and that services such as these make their communities safer."
"There is a shortage of supported accommodation in the Horowhenua region. We operate similar services in Whanganui and Taranaki that are successfully helping people safely transition back into the community."
"These services provide people who are lawfully required to be released from prison with 24/7 support and assistance with employment, education, training and life skills."
"Ultimately, services like this are crucial to helping people live crime-free and making our communities safer."
"In recent weeks we've been speaking with stakeholders and people in the Levin community about a potential supported accommodation service we were looking to set up on Gladstone Road, Levin."
"We also attended a meeting on Monday facilitated by Mayor Bernie Wanden, elected representatives and community members to provide information about the proposal and answer questions."
"...we advised the people that we had engaged with that we had made the decision not to proceed with the proposed service."
"Prior to deciding on the property in Gladstone Road we had already considered 18 other properties in the region. We assessed these and found them unsuitable for a variety of reasons, including their proximity to schools."
"We carried out a number of checks at the Gladstone Road property, and then lodged an RMA application with the Horowhenua District Council to confirm that the activity is permitted under their District Plan."
"Our staff visited the property a number of times at different times of the day to assess a range of factors, including whether there were any signs of children residing nearby, the suitability of the address for electronic monitoring, looking for bus stops, and the location of any places designed for use by children, such as playgrounds.
Corrections currently provide around 1,100 accommodation spaces each year in the community, and continue to work with Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities (formerly Housing New Zealand) and partners such as HealthCare New Zealand, Salvation Army and other social service agencies to deliver supported accommodation around the country.
More than 15,000 people were released from prison last year, and finding accommodation for people who are lawfully required to be released from prison is one of our most significant challenges, she said.
While the vast majority of people return home to family or make their own accommodation arrangements, the reality is that without us working alongside service providers to offer supported accommodation, some people would be homeless.
This would present an unacceptable safety risk to communities, she said.
"Corrections manages people at the direction of the Courts and the New Zealand Parole Board. We do not decide when a person is released from prison – this is a matter for the Courts and New Zealand Parole Board."
People released from prison must comply with any conditions imposed on them by the Courts or New Zealand Parole Board.
Collins said public safety is always our top priority when it comes to the management of a person in the community.
Community Corrections staff carry out ongoing assessments and use comprehensive risk assessment tools to identify any likelihood of further offending and risk of harm to others.
"We actively manage the compliance of people with their conditions, and hold them to account if they breach. Potential penalties can include breach action, increased reporting to Community Corrections, formal prosecution or a recall to prison."
"In recent years, in response to an increasing shortage of supply of options in the housing market, particularly for those with complex needs, we have increased our investment in accommodation and support services from $3.8 million in 2016 to over $7 million per annum."
"In addition, we received $57.6 million in Budget 2018 to deliver housing and support services to people serving community-based sentences, on bail awaiting trial, or who have recently left prison."
"We are experiencing an overall increase in demand for accommodation for former prisoners and people with community-based sentences and orders, and have had to prioritise services in the areas of greatest need."