How do you self-isolate groups of homeless people in Rotorua and ensure they don't mix with others. Journalist Kelly Makiha talks to the local providers about their challenges ahead.

All of Rotorua's homeless will have a safe place to self-isolate and be fed, but they are being warned they need to follow self-isolation rules or risk the community's health.

The 30 to 45 people who use Rotorua's night shelter, run by Visions of a Helping Hand Charitable Trust, are being given the option of either self-isolating at the shelter during the day or are being offered motel accommodation.

Tiny Deane and his wife, Lynley, who run the shelter told the Rotorua Daily Post yesterday they were classed as an essential service and had been busy setting up the premises to ensure it was able to accommodate the homeless during the day.

Advertisement

However, they admit they were in for some challenges with those with mental health and drug addiction issues.

A meeting was held with the homeless this morning to talk through their options but Tiny Deane said he was not allowed to comment about the details of the meeting as from today. He said the directive not to comment at this stage had come from the Government.

However, Tiny Deane said yesterday trying to stop the homeless mixing with others over their drug habits would be the challenging part.

"Drugs will dry up and tension and anxiety will increase. I'm dreading it to be honest."

Tiny Deane said yesterday the night shelter had never offered a day-stay service, mainly because they weren't funded to do so, but also because of the issues it created given their drug and mental health needs.

"It's going to be hard work but we have to take responsibility 24/7."

He said those who had previously been banned from the night shelter for bad behaviour were now welcome to come back.

Lynley Deane, who predominantly works from their shelter for women and children at Tarewa Rd, said yesterday there were 23 women and 13 children at the Tarewa Rd shelter who were self-isolating and 10 women and 12 children at the trust's Taupō shelter who were self-isolating.

Advertisement

She said with children home from school she hoped to encourage the women into playing educational games with their children. They had organised from some play equipment, chalk for hopscotch and had put in place rules for the amount of technology and TV time.

"If they stay here, they have to stay within the rules of the whare. They can go for a walk, as long as they aren't meeting their mates at the park."

She said most were switched on enough to know what they had to do.

"They will be the ones hit the hardest ... I've bought in a big bag of lemons and we're doing to have lovely lemon drinks to cleanse our bodies and livers."

She said the trust had put in place measures to ensure staff were safe but they would not be forcing anyone to work who didn't feel comfortable.

Rotorua's long-standing homeless meal service Love Soup has also been classed as an essential service and would continue to feed the homeless, rough sleepers and those struggling at night.

Gina and Elma Peiffer are ready to safely feed the city's homeless during the lockdown. Photo / File
Gina and Elma Peiffer are ready to safely feed the city's homeless during the lockdown. Photo / File

Gina Peiffer, who runs the service with husband Elmer, said there were strict new measures in place.

She said those in vehicles had to stay in their cars until they were called and those walking had to maintain a 1.5m distance from each other.

Everyone would need to sanitise their hands before collecting plastic containers with their meals in them. They would then be asked to quickly leave to eat their meals.

Those returning would need to bring their containers back with them.

"Please remain calm, we have taken every step necessary to ensure we continue to provide for those in need."

Peiffer said they had predicted the country would go into full lockdown and had prepared for it.

She said the service, which feeds up to 40 people each night, was in desperate need of more plastic containers and anyone wanting to donate them should drop them off to their headquarters at 2 Ross Rd.

Yesterday was the first day of serving meals under strict lockdown rules and she said it went smoothly.

The homeless were fed in their containers, a starter of surimi salad, main of pork, kumara and carrots and dessert of plum and lemon curd tartlets with other sweet treats.

Ministry of Social Development housing general manager Karen Hocking said in a statement it was working closely and as quickly as it could with other agencies to help those who were homeless or sleeping rough.

"We're supporting the Housing and Urban Development Ministry in its leadership of the Homelessness Action Plan, and are working with Ministry of Business and Employment, through its Temporary Accommodation Service, which is working to identify suitable self-isolation options."

She said with the move to Alert Level 4 and the closure of service centres for face-to-face appointments, more people would be relying on them in the weeks ahead.

"Every day we provide emergency accommodation for those in need. We currently work with around 400 emergency housing suppliers each day to support over 2600 households with their urgent housing needs."

A Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spokesman said it was working closely with Kāinga Ora, community housing and housing first providers to bring on more supply at pace to ensure vulnerable people had suitable accommodation.

According to the December Ministry for Housing and Urban Development quarterly report there were 479 people on the register waiting for state homes in the Rotorua District – up from 391 in the quarter before.

The Government had approved 3009 emergency housing grants valued at $4.48m in December compared with 3381 grants valued at $4.47m the quarter before.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website