Some held hand-made signs, some cried, others begged. However they did it, the request to council and government officials was simple: Give us a homeless shelter.

More than 120 people marched among placards, flags and chants to the doors of the Rotorua Lakes Council today during the the Hīkoi for the Homeless.

The group stressed that a night shelter was urgently needed in Rotorua to prevent the homeless from dying on the streets this winter.

After the hīkoi, the Rotorua Lakes Council, Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey and an iwi trust working with homeless issued a joint statement saying they heard the hīkoi's requests and would be doing all they could to help.

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Organiser Renee Kiriona made it clear at the start of the hīkoi at 10am on Pukuatua St it was to be peaceful.

"No swearing, aroha mai," she said.

The crowd grew as it stopped outside the Ministry for Social Development before heading to Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey's office on Whakaue St.

MC Kingi Biddle spoke through a mega phone between the stops.

"It was a cold night last night, makariri (cold). Our whanau don't have heat pumps, houses or even shelter. It was cold last night even with a house."

Rotorua district councillors and Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey respond to the homeless hīkoi

Posted by Rotorua Daily Post on Sunday, 27 May 2018

The hīkoi participants carried hand-made cardboard signs and held flags, including the Māori tino rangatiratanga (Māori sovereignty) flag.

One of the flags read "Our lives matter", another said "Don't let us die".

Renee Kiriona addresses the council and government representatives. Photo/Stephen Parker
Renee Kiriona addresses the council and government representatives. Photo/Stephen Parker

The group shouted chants and requests such as "We need a shelter".

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It sang Stand By Me and How Great Thou Art led by those walking with guitars.

Rotorua residents rally with their signs at Hīkoi for Homeless. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua residents rally with their signs at Hīkoi for Homeless. Photo / Stephen Parker

Among those taking part were members of the public, Salvation Army staff and former Māori Development Minister and Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell.

"This is a good kaupapa, and it was appropriate for me to be here to support it. You can see by the numbers here that people care about those sleeping rough.

"The mere fact that I can be rugged up and others can't is a sad indictment on our situation. It is cold enough now, and it is even colder in the evenings," Flavell said.

The final stop was at the council buildings.

Security guards stood in front of the doors at first, then Coffey and council representatives such as deputy mayor Dave Donaldson and councillors Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Trevor Maxwell and Tania Tapsell came out.

A hīkoi for Rotorua's homeless has arrived at Rotorua Lakes Council

Posted by Rotorua Daily Post on Sunday, 27 May 2018

Members of the hīkoi performed a haka in response.

There were tears, karakia, hongi, and waiata, but the main purpose of the hīkoi's arrival at the council was korero.

Te Arawa kaumātua Ken Kennedy stood alongside Coffey and addressed the crowd in te reo Māori.

A hīkoi for the homeless is taking place in Rotorua this morning.

Posted by Rotorua Daily Post on Sunday, 27 May 2018

Tiny Deane, from Visions of a Helping Hand Charitable Trust, then spoke.

"What I really want to ask is, they [the homeless] really need a night shelter. They are just begging for a night shelter.

"Quite a few of them, not all of them, have addictions, drug and alcohol, P, meth. I don't want them to be doing that, they fall asleep, they suffer in the cold, they die of hypothermia."

Hikoi for homeless - rallying for a night shelter. Photo/Stephen Parker
Hikoi for homeless - rallying for a night shelter. Photo/Stephen Parker

He said all that was needed was a building of some sort that was open plan.

"We have 50 beds already, we will get the security guards to look after them from 7 at night until 7 in the morning.

"Everyone has failed them. We should have been doing this four to five months ago. Winter is here. It is freezing cold. The council has got to come up with a solution. How do we do this in a hurry? How do we get past all the bylaws?"

He suggested the Scout Hall at the Rotorua Lakefront.

"That building is good enough to do it. It's just getting it across the line to make it happen."

Kiriona told the crowd she always heard the word "collaborating" and it "made her sick".

She said the Government departments and the council were not collaborating with each other.

Rotorua Salvation Army officer Ralph Overbye said homelessness was growing.

Hīkoi for the Homeless - rallying for a night shelter. Photo/Stephen Parker
Hīkoi for the Homeless - rallying for a night shelter. Photo/Stephen Parker

"We are deeply concerned. There are no quick fixes. What is required is commitment from the whole Rotorua community to engage with these challenges and for everyone to do their bit. This includes local and central government, many different agencies, community groups, businesses and community members."

Coffey and Raukawa-Tait addressed the crowd at today's hīkoi.

Coffey said there was research to show night shelters did not work as it created dependency. However, he pledged he would take the hīkoi's message seriously.

Raukawa-Tait said the hīkoi had made her realise the council needed to do more.

The council, Coffey and Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue, which works with iwi, issued a joint statement this afternoon about the hīkoi.

Coffey said: "Make no mistake - our goal is to not just manage homelessness, but to end it. We are prioritising long-term solutions. Housing First offers individually tailored support plans to help Kiwis in need get into homes quickly, stay housed and live better lives," he said.

He said the Housing First model aimed to support people faced with chronic homelessness by getting them into stable accommodation first and then addressing their wider needs.

A proposal for the model to be funded in Rotorua had been put to the Ministry of Social Development by Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue with support from homelessness experienced-services, Lifewise and Link People.

The statement said the council was working with Te Taumata and had advocated to the Ministry of Social Development, which was responsible for emergency housing and social housing, in support of the proposal.

Norma Sturley, of Te Taumata and a Ngāti Whakaue kuia, said the hīkoi supporters presented a solution and a possible answer.

Their advice for a night shelter will be explored by the council and Te Taumata.

"We're going to do our darndest to help them with a short-term solution. Keeping them warm in the winter and stopping them from freezing in the cold. There were a few of them concerned about the cold and our heart goes out to them," Sturley said.

Raukawa-Tait, who oversaw the council's People portfolio, said it was evident from this morning's event that people were passionate about addressing homelessness.

"It was clear that there is a hope for a short-term solution. But still we don't want to lose sight that we want to help get our homeless community off the streets altogether. We need to look for a long-term solution. They made a very passionate plea to council to do what we can to help them."

Cr Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Waiariki MP, Tamati Coffey and Norma Sturley of Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue want to acknowledge the #hīkoiforthehomeless for stopping at Council this morning and ensuring the issue remains front of mind.

Posted by Rotorua Lakes Council on Sunday, 27 May 2018