As the old saying goes: There is no place like home. But, unfortunately, there are not enough homes in Rotorua to go around, so more people are becoming trapped in transitional housing while rents continue to skyrocket and the waiting list for state and public housing grows. Carmen Hall reports on the crisis, which shows no signs of improving anytime soon.
The Government has spent more than $4 million in three years putting Rotorua's homeless into transitional housing but one mum says the stigma attached to being one of those faces ''is like a scar, it's there forever''.
Celia Pirini has been in transitional housing for more than one year and is sharing her story to raise awareness about homelessness and how she hopes to inspire others.
She is at Visions of a Helping Hand Women's Shelter and was full of praise for the safe environment the facility provides for herself and her daughter.
Pirini became homeless after the rentals she lived in were sold. Situations like her two oldest children losing their father to leukemia in 2016 and their grandmother's death this year had also taken their toll.
But that has not stopped her from chasing her dreams. Pirini wants to create an animation studio in hometown Murupara, using Māori content to take advantage of three years of study at the Animation College.
The determined 35-year-old said the stigma that is still attached to homelessness does not go away.
''The different comments I receive from people visiting Visions are amusing and I at times I feel bad for being amused my most favourite is 'You don't look homeless'."
''And 'do you work here or do you live here?' Like I am supposed to be illiterate and uneducated, filthy-looking and that I am not helping myself, that I'm a burden and a drug addict, that abuses my child.'
''To be treated like this regularly takes a toll, and if I did not have the strong mindset I would almost certainly succumb to the stigma.''
Rents 'skyrocket' while millions is spent on emergency housing
Getting a house to call home would be a dream come true, she said.
Visions of a Helping Hand founder Tiny Deane said a major emphasis was put on getting people ready to transition into a home and three social workers were tasked with making that happen.
The Women's Shelter could sleep 68 women and children, while Visions had one homeless shelter in Rotorua and another in Taupō.
He said most of the women who arrived had lost their rentals as they had been sold or turned into Airbnb accommodation.
But he had big plans to solve that problem and hoped 30 new homes would be built early next year in conjunction with investors.
Salvation Army national director for accommodation Lynette Hutson said the pressure of living in transitional housing could have a massive impact on families' health and wellbeing.
''It is really a struggle for people to stay in a positive mental space when they have feelings of hopelessness. Like 'what am I going to do, I have no other options'. Then people get quite self-judgmental because they feel like they are a failure, they feel they are no good, that they can't look after their families.''
Hutson said that could lead to depression, frustration and outbreaks of anger, which was not a good environment for children.
Rotorua's growth in population meant all its housing was being soaked up, she said.
''So of course, people are staying in the transitional housing longer and, no matter how fast government or private agencies build, it's going to be a long time before we catch up.''
Professionals McDowell Real Estate principal Steve Lovegrove said rents had jumped and the firm could receive 30 applicants for one house.
A landlord's ideal tenant was someone employed, with good credit history and references, who would look after the house and pay their rent.
''They are very particular around that. Most of them will look at it from a commercial point of view as they have an asset to protect.''
The rental portfolio in Rotorua had also dropped significantly in the last few years, Lovegrove said, as landlords sold up and the number of first homebuyers grew. More homes were also being turned into Airbnb accommodation, he said.
Taxpayers pick up $4 million tab
Rotorua transitional housing providers LinkPeople, the Salvation Army, Women's Refuge and Visions of a Helping Hand are continuing to accommodate homeless families in the city, new figures show.
Data obtained from the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development by the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act show from July 2016 to June 2019 those providers received about $4.3m.
From July 2017 to June 2019 those providers in total offered 189 housing placements which could support up to four households per year.
Figures reveal the longest family stayed 57 weeks. Households can stay in transitional housing for about 12 weeks but can stay longer if they can't find a permanent place to live.
Funding and Programme Delivery deputy chief executive Scott Gallacher said in the OIA-sourced documentation that more people than ever before were coming forward seeking accommodation.
He said there were a number of difficult circumstances why some households required longer support. These included unemployment or low incomes and they may face a range of complex issues such as mental health and addictions, criminal history and family breakdowns.
Those could be considered as barriers for some landlords, he said, but the housing providers involved worked with those involved to address issues.
''What is important though is that while households in transitional housing receive the support they need to help them find a long-term home, they are housed in warm, dry and safe accommodation and not in a car, garage or out in the open.''
According to the June quarterly report by the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development and Ministry of Social Development, the number of applicants waiting for public houses had jumped to 305 from 240 in the three-month period.
In October this newspaper reported from October 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019 the Government spent more than $9.3m on emergency housing special needs grants in Rotorua.
That money was paid to 20 motels, backpackers and lodges for Ministry for Social Development clients including $834,148 to Jedi 3000 Limited.
• There are four transitional housing providers in Rotorua.
• Transitional housing provides short-term housing for individuals and families who don't have anywhere to live and have an urgent need for a place to stay.
• Households stay in transitional housing for about 12 weeks but can apply to stay longer.
Source: Ministry for Housing and Urban Development