The first emergency housing motel I went into was cold, damp, and just generally unhygienic. Mould grew on the walls, the lighting was dim and faulty, and cockroaches crawled confidently around in the small, cupboard-sized room the two young people shared.
I could not imagine sleeping there let alone living there. I felt sick just being in the building.
And yet, this was where the young people I was trying to support to find housing had been put when they had asked the Ministry of Social Development to support them with emergency accommodation.
Lifewise Youth Housing Service supports young people experiencing homelessness into safe, supported and stable accommodation.
The problem is that not enough is earmarked for rangatahi, and our team can only support so many. We turn rangatahi away almost daily, and when they can't get housing with us, they either have to remain in the dangerous situation they're in, couch surf (with all the risks that come with sleeping in a different stranger's house every night), sleep on the street or, if they can, get a motel through MSD.
You might think that if a young person was experiencing homelessness and went to Work and Income for help, that they would be provided with a safe and supported place to live until they could find stable housing.
Horrifically, this is not the case.
If a 16- or 17-year-old reaches out to Work and Income tonight seeking a safe place to stay, there is no safe, supported, rangatahi centric accommodation available for them. In fact, because of their age, they will be lucky if they even find a motel that will take them.
And if they do find a motel, there is no guarantee that they will be safe.
Too many of our rangatahi have told us that they felt safer living on the street than they did living in the motel they had been provided. If that sounds crazy to you, it's because it is.
One young woman I spoke to recently told me that she had been sexually harassed and intimidated in every motel that she had ever been placed in.
Another young person had spent lockdown sleeping rough, on the street, under bridges, couch surfing with strangers. She was 17, and because of her age, she had struggled to get any support.
Our team worked hard all day to find a motel that would accept a 17-year-old, we drove her to the place, made plans to catch up with her the next day, and left her. She didn't stay there.
The next day she'd told us how unsafe she'd felt, isolated, without any support, surrounded by strangers and with no one to look after her or protect her. She'd returned to the street. At least there she could hide. At least there she could find some community with other young people like herself who would watch her back and give her a relative sense of safety.
It is appalling that here, in Aotearoa New Zealand, a country lauded internationally for its kindness and compassion, that we have so neglected the needs of our rangatahi, that when they experience homelessness, and they reach out for help, that we have no plan in place to keep them safe.
If you are an adult, or a family, and you are in the same situation, there is more support available to you, than a young person. This just isn't okay.
Motels aren't a solution for vulnerable young people who desperately need housing. They are often unsafe, and unfit, and in some cases the environments are such that our young people tell us that they are being traumatised by their experiences living in them.
Lifewise, alongside Manaaki Rangatahi, a collective working to end youth homelessness, has been actively calling on the government to fund safe, supported, Immediate accommodation services for young people.
The existence of these services would mean that if a young person was homeless tonight, and they reached out for help, there would be somewhere safe where they could go.
The service would provide youth workers on site, services to facilitate young people's healing and recovery, and also support to assist the rangatahi to find stable accommodation.
It is not good enough that the only options available to our young people are the streets, or the potential of an unsafe and unhygienic motel unit.
We can do better Aotearoa. We must.
• Aaron Hendry is a youth housing team leader with Lifewise and a member of Manaaki Rangatahi, a collective working to end youth homelessness.