A distraught Tiny Deane has lashed out at the Rotorua Lakes District Council, saying in his view it has been "snobbish" and "heartless" over red tape that forced him to close the homeless shelter.

But the council says it has not received a consent application for the centre, on Eruera St, an important part of the process needed for people to sleep in the building overnight.

A council spokesman said in a statement the building did not need a consent to operate as a drop-in centre but Building Code safety requirements needed to be met before it was used for overnight sleeping - something which was agreed to before the centre opened.

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Deane was close to tears when he spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post this week as he reflected on his decision to close the night shelter on Saturday.

Deane's Visions of a Helping Hand charitable trust operated the shelter but he said he had to close it after the council reiterated on Friday the trust faced a $200,000 fine if it allowed people to sleep there.

Tiny Deane addresses representatives of Ngāti Whakaue, the Rotorua Lakes Council and local organisations during the hīkoi for the homeless. Photo / File
Tiny Deane addresses representatives of Ngāti Whakaue, the Rotorua Lakes Council and local organisations during the hīkoi for the homeless. Photo / File

He said the trust had been trying to ensure all people using the shelter stayed awake but found it hard to keep one particular resident from falling asleep.

"I actually thought I was helping, I honestly did," he said.

Deane said in his opinion: "It's been pretty poor from the council, they're quite snobbish, heartless and I feel they are pretty inhumane.

"I'm just sick of them,'' he said.

Deane said the shelter had been "like a home" for elderly people, cancer patients, people with childhood trauma, addictions and severe mental health issues.

Rotorua man Tiny Deane is upset at seeing the night shelter close. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua man Tiny Deane is upset at seeing the night shelter close. Photo / Stephen Parker

"I just want the consent. We were doing such good work here and want to continue doing it."

He said he believed they were working through the consent process with the council and thought that counted as a consent application.

The building owner, who spoke on condition they were not identified, said a "formal document may not have been filled out", but the council was well aware they were working on it.

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"We are trying to meet their conditions."

When the use of a building is changed the Building Act requires an assessment of the building to be undertaken to determine if upgrades are needed.

According to Section 115 of the Building Act, to qualify for a change of use consent a building must comply "as nearly as is reasonably practicable" with the provisions of the building code.

These provisions relate to means of escape from fire, protection of other property, sanitary facilities, structural performance, and fire-rating performance.

A Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment spokeswoman said any building below 34 per cent of the New Building Standard was considered earthquake-prone.

She said the percentage required for a change of use was at the council's discretion.

More than 120 people marched to the doors of Rotorua Lakes Council during a hikoi for the homeless rallying for a night shelter. Photo/File
More than 120 people marched to the doors of Rotorua Lakes Council during a hikoi for the homeless rallying for a night shelter. Photo/File

The building owner said fire ratings and earthquake risk seemed to be the provisions the council were working through at the night shelter.

He said he had installed long-life domestic fire alarms into each room of the shelter and would be happy to install the necessary "computerised fire assistant" if that was what it needed to pass.

"To me, it's the earthquake rating they're stickling over, but it is above the government minimum. We have done a lot of work here, but whatever we do, it's not enough."

A 2015 seismic report completed on the building, which the owner provided to the Rotorua Daily Post, found the building had a seismic capacity of 37 per cent of the New Building Standard, meaning it was considered "potentially an earthquake risk".

A council spokesman said "while obviously, 100 per cent seismic rating would be the ideal, that is not practical for all buildings and a level of 66 per cent was widely accepted as meeting this test".

Ngāti Whakaue kuia Norma Sturley and Visions of a Helping Hand's Tiny Deane celebrate plans for a Rotorua Night Shelter on June 1. Photo / File
Ngāti Whakaue kuia Norma Sturley and Visions of a Helping Hand's Tiny Deane celebrate plans for a Rotorua Night Shelter on June 1. Photo / File

He said a night-time centre was established as a temporary solution to get people through the winter nights and the council continued "to fully support that kaupapa – as it always had".

He said the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), "as the lead agency dealing with homelessness and emergency and social housing", had committed to "doing what it takes to find appropriate solutions for the homeless".

"One longer-term MSD solution coming to Rotorua is the Housing First programme.

"In the meantime, MSD has told the council there is no need for people to be sleeping rough because there are options available."

The spokesman said the council had made a commitment to process any application for consent under urgency.

"We have tried to speed things up by paying for expert reports which are needed to support a consent application.

"Under the Building Act, all buildings must be safe and fit for purpose. That is the council's main priority.

"Anyone who ignores this requirement under the act could be liable for prosecution and a penalty of up to $200,000. More importantly, ignoring requirements poses an unacceptable safety risk to people's lives."

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The process

1. The building owner or operator notifies council they want to change use.

2. Owner or operator employs experts to undertake reports (e.g. structural and fire safety) to determine what, if any, upgrades are needed.

3. Council assesses the reports and determines if building consent is needed.

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4. If not, the owner/operator can go ahead with any work required, as per their reports.

5. If they need consent, they then lodge a consent application.

6. Consent application is processed.

7. Once consent is approved they then complete the work that needs to be done.

8. When the work is completed they get sign-off and a code of compliance certificate from the council prior to change of use.

- Rotorua Lakes Council

Shelter closure reaction

Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association chairwoman Glenys Searancke

The council needed to "walk back its threats of $200,000 fines" and accept the building exceeded minimum earthquake standards.

"We implore the council to rule urgently that the building is as safe as practicable to allow the owner access to complete the upstairs wiring of the electronic smoke and heat detection system and offer overnight shelter.

"From when the shelter opened seven weeks ago it had non-electronic smoke detectors and two security guards on duty all night, wide awake and able to respond to any emergency."

Ministry of Social Development

MSD deputy chief executive housing Scott Gallacher said its priority was that "everyone has a warm, safe, dry place to live".

"We are committed to doing what we can to house people, especially during the winter months.

"Visions of a Helping Hand are passionate about supporting people in the community who are sleeping rough. We will continue to work with them, and any other organisation that can provide suitable housing solutions to the people who need it."

Gallacher said transitional housing, public housing and private rentals were the ministry's first options to house people, but it would "do what it takes to make sure people have shelter".

"We will use all the options available to us, including motels and night shelters, as long as they are warm, dry, safe and suitable to be used as accommodation."

Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey

Coffey, who met with Deane following the hīkoi for the homeless on May 28, said he joined the community in its disappointment over the shelter's closure.

"Without the shelter in place this winter, the urgency behind the Housing First services this Government has announced for Rotorua has skyrocketed.

"I will be working to ensure they are in place as soon as possible and ready to support our whānau in need."