New figures reveal the cost of housing the homeless in motels in Rotorua. Rotorua Daily Post journalist Kelly Makiha reports.
The Government spent $1.8 million on seven additional Rotorua motels in five weeks to house the city's homeless during the lockdown period.
That money was given in housing grants between March 25 and May 1 and is on top of what is already being spent to put a roof over the heads of the city's homeless in emergency accommodation.
And one of the motel providers took safety precaution one step further by buying $4500 worth of cigarettes to ensure the homeless under his care were not sharing cigarettes and risking the spread of Covid-19.
In the year to March, more than $16m has been spent on 11,400 emergency housing grants in Rotorua.
New figures released to the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act show the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spent an additional $1.89m at seven motels for 104 "placements" as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
The ministry said placements didn't necessarily equate to individuals, rather 104 placements could house 104 households. All figures supplied excluded GST.
The additional spend was needed to ensure those sleeping rough in Rotorua had a safe and secure roof over their head during the level 4 lockdown.
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the ministry was supporting 325 households in emergency housing in Rotorua as at Friday, June 5. That leapt by 112 households from when lockdown began when there were just 213 households being supported at the week ending Friday, March 27.
Rotorua homeless campaigner Tiny Deane, who runs Visions of a Helping Hand Trust which used to run the now closed inner-city night shelter, took over running two motels on Fenton St at the start of alert level 4.
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The four-star motels he is in charge of - Tuscany Villas and Emerald Spa Resort - are among the seven that were given the additional funding to get rough sleepers off the street immediately.
Deane told the Rotorua Daily Post the homeless were notorious for sharing cigarettes and picking butts up off the ground. He said for the sake of safety, he spent $4500 of his own money buying cigarettes for the first few weeks of lockdown.
He said he would personally give them out.
When asked how taxpayers should feel about the amount of money being spent housing the homeless, Deane said it had to be done as part of the health crisis.
"Communal living in a Covid situation was life-threatening. The Government said to me this is their plan, take it or leave it and I said we will take it."
He said paying for their cigarettes was his personal contribution to help stop any potential spread.
"It is a lot of money but what is a person's life worth? It's all about caring and that's why we get a lot of respect."
Deane said their plan was working, they were funnelling homeless into homes, providing wrap-around services for those in the motels and improving their lifestyles.
Anyone not abiding by his strict rules or obeying security were kicked out.
He said their plan was to show respect, then taper them off being dependent on motels and into their own homes and ideally with jobs.
"We're not hurrying because we need to get it right."
Rotorua's emergency housing spend during the lockdown period contributed to the $5.9m that was spent during those five weeks on additional emergency housing throughout the entire Bay of Plenty. The Bay's total figure includes eight motels in Tauranga costing just over $3m for 135 placements.
The Bay region had the second biggest spend, closely following Auckland on $8.9m. The next nearest region to come close was Canterbury which was given $1.6m.
Ministry of Housing and Urban Development housing supply, response and partnerships acting deputy chief executive Jo Hogg said the ministry had been working with other agencies, community groups, iwi and private accommodation providers to urgently help vulnerable New Zealanders who were homeless during the pandemic.
Since the alert levels, about 1200 extra places nationwide, mainly motels, were secured for people where social distancing was not possible.
She said residents were being supported with wrap-around services including regular wellbeing checks, ensuring they were able to access food and welfare and connecting them with other essential services such as healthcare.
Hogg said the Bay of Plenty's response was regularly shifting according to demand and
as people presented for urgent accommodation.
She said most motels had initially been contracted for three months although there was some variation in contracts. The Government has committed funding of $107.6m
to ensure people can stay housed until long-term housing supply is available.
New Zealand emergency housing grants
Region - Number of motels - Number of places - Contract value
Northland -7 - 58 - $1,367,460.39
Auckland - 26 - 459 - $8,932,652.63
Bay of Plenty - 21 - 318 - $5,909,822.93
Waikato - 4 - 45 - $624,598.24
East Coast - 6 - 80 - $912,441.85
Central - 1 - 15 - $368,745.00
Wellington - 9 - 112 - $1,215,649.47
Nelson Tasman - 6 - 46 - $1,053,104.50
Canterbury - 10 - 75 - $1,577,319.07
Total - 90 - 1208 - $21,961,794.08
In the Bay of Plenty
City - Number of motels - Number of places - Contract Value
Tauranga - 8 - 135 - $3,092,760.32
Rotorua - 7 - 104 - $1,887,607.00
Rotorua homeless facts
* An additional $1.89 million at seven motels for 104 "placements" from March 25 to May 1.
* In 12 months to March 2020, $16 million has been spent on 11,400 emergency housing grants for mainly motels in Rotorua.
* There are 325 households in emergency housing placements in Rotorua as of Friday June 5.