Louis Moeau has been offered emergency housing from social agencies but says he had either turned them down or was waiting to hear back. Now he waits in a park, living in a tent with
his young son - something not all neighbours are happy about.
Carmen Hall investigates.
Ice Moeau scratches dirt with a long stick while his father Louis untangles rope to make a clothesline in the trees.
The father and son are desperate to dry five bags of washing neatly stacked outside their tent but this is no camping holiday. This is Mount Maunganui's Arataki Reserve where Moeau and Ice, 4, have been parked up since Christmas. This is their reality.
Moeau said his occupation on Tauranga City Council land was a protest while he sits on the social housing register. In his view, Housing New Zealand needs to be held accountable after he gave up a state house in Gisborne more than six years ago on the understanding he could transfer to Tauranga. Moeau needed further medical attention at the Grace Orthopaedic Centre for a shoulder injury which forced him out of the forestry industry.
Housing New Zealand said it investigated how staff dealt with Moeau's transfer application and acknowledged a further e-mail Moeau sent to Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford last month about the length of time he had been waiting for a state rental in Mount Maunganui.
Agencies state Moeau had been offered emergency housing but declined. Moeau said he wants something more permanent.
Despite a flurry of complaints and concerns, Tauranga City Council confirmed Moeau was not breaking any laws.
The campsite is tidy and has a barbecue. There are two neatly made beds inside their main tent which he tries to insulate at night with air mattresses and woollen underlays.
There are knick-knacks including small potted plants and scented candles. A welcoming black Buddha sits perched on a white chair. But some members of the community were not so welcoming and were at a loss to understand why Moeau was still there.
Neighbours spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times would not be named but said
the set-up had progressively grown more elaborate and permanent.
While several expressed sympathy, one was outraged, saying "something needs to be done about it, it's ridiculous''.
So how did Moeau end up in the Arataki Reserve just across the road from relatives?
The 40-year-old said it had been a journey of living on and off in his relatives shed for years in between private rentals ranging from $450 to $490 a week. Those rentals were either sold or the landlord moved back in.
Moeau was angry about Tauranga's rental crisis and said he was making a stand - in the reserve.
''I am here waiting for a house.''
He wears a grey woollen hat and warm clothing and praises Ice for staying clean following his morning shower at the Arataki Community Centre, which offers the service to homeless people in conjunction with the council.
But Moeau worried about his son not having a permanent home. He worried about some of the racial slurs and the ''get a job, you are disgraceful'' comments from passersby. He worried about their future but remained determined.
Housing New Zealand area manager Sharlene Karena Newman said the organisation had helped, and would continue to help, Moeau get the housing he needed.
She acknowledged his previous housing circumstances when he moved out of a state house in Gisborne to shift to Tauranga were checked and investigated at the time.
''He was given assistance and clear explanations, both in writing and verbally, as to what was possible, and practical advice about what steps he needed to take.''
Ministry for Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the ministry was keen for Moeau to accept its offers of emergency housing and had talked to him multiple times about his options.
''At least it is a warm, safe housing solution for him in the short term.
''So far, he's turned this down and has elected to stay in his current living arrangement. Ultimately the final decision on where someone stays is with the individual and they may choose to stay in accommodation we consider to be inadequate, despite our best efforts to help.''
The ministry continued to provide Moeau with advice and financial assistance in good faith, including food grants and an accommodation allowance, Bryant said.
Records show Ice stayed with relatives on cold nights.
According to the ministry, emergency housing was short-term stays at motels or boarding houses. In the first quarter to the end of March 2019, it had approved $736,286 of emergency housing grants to Tauranga providers.
Council regulatory and compliance general manager Barbara Dempsey said it received 35 inquiries about Moeau.
''These were not all complaints, many people are concerned for the man and his son's wellbeing.''
Moeau was not breaking the law as the 1990 Bill of Rights Act protected people experiencing homelessness, she said.
''Council cannot unjustifiably remove or move these vulnerable members of our community by punitive means.''
During the past two years, the council had also received 636 phone calls about homeless people sleeping rough.
''Some people were concerned and wanted to know what could be done to help the vulnerable members of our community. Many were also seeking clarity on the new rules around the rough sleeping in our street use and public places bylaw.''
By the numbers
* There are 281 applicants on the MSD Housing Register in Tauranga to March 2019
* There are 123 Transitional Housing places in Tauranga to March 2019
* MSD had approved $736,286 of Emergency Housing Grants to Tauranga providers for short-term stays at motels or boarding houses in the first quarter of 2019 to end of March