Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick has hit back at claims the council is "heartless" saying "not on my watch would I have a Grenfell Tower on our hands".

Visions of a Helping Hand's Tiny Deane lashed out at the council on Tuesday saying in his view it had been "snobbish" and "heartless" over red tape that forced him to close Rotorua's night shelter on Saturday.

But the city's mayor said the Ministry of Social Development had "given the assurance that any of those people could be housed", all they needed to do was register.

The Ministry of Social Development said there were 139 individuals or families on the waiting list for housing in March 2018, compared with just 17 in 2015.


Chadwick called for a media conference yesterday to "make very clear the council position on the issue of homelessness".

She said the conference was not an admission the council had been losing the PR battle over the homeless issue.

A July 5 inspection by Rotorua Lakes Council found people to be sleeping there, a breach of the agreement between the council and Deane.

The Eruera St building did not have consent for overnight sleeping.

Deane closed the shelter last weekend.

Chadwick said the closure of the shelter did not come as a surprise to her after, in a meeting, Deane had admitted this was a highly complex issue.

"Probably Deane thought I'll just open it and then it will be sorted around him.

"I think [he] himself didn't realise how difficult this process was."

She said there was a management plan agreed before the shelter opened where the provisions "were outlined very clearly".

"In our view, we were very happy things were moving along with council staff doing their job."


The council was yet to receive the reports required, which it had agreed to pay for, or an application for consent.

"We still are waiting for those reports and we look forward to seeing them so we can look at getting the consent through," Chadwick said.

"The building is highly complex in itself and when we see the reports we will see the work that needs to be done on it.

"Not on my watch would I have a Grenfell Tower on our hands."

Seventy-two people died last year in the Grenfell Tower fire in London.

Deane said the reports had been completed and he was waiting on an available meeting time with the council.

Chadwick said Housing First was the right policy to work towards.

"It's a very old paradigm to say get a shelter and put everybody together with high and complex needs.

"MSD has given the assurance that any of those people could be housed, all of them."

Chadwick said people needed to register with MSD and those providers were available at the daytime drop-in centre.

"They don't need to be sleeping rough, they just need to register with MSD and they will be accommodated."

When asked if she was confident no one needed to be sleeping outside if they didn't want to she said, "That's what I've been told."

MSD housing deputy chief executive Scott Gallacher said it could guarantee when someone asked for help it would "do its absolute best to support and find accommodation for them as soon as it could".

"While we always prefer to place people into long-term public or private rentals or transitional housing, when these options are not available – as is the case currently – we'll do what it takes to get people into somewhere warm and dry right away.

"Right now, that often will mean supporting them with an Emergency Housing Special Needs grant to pay for a motel or other short term accommodation."

In the March quarter, MSD supported 40 Rotorua households with Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants.

Gallacher said people did not choose to sleep rough, and while the shortage of housing was a big factor, the causes of homelessness were complex.

"We are actively working with Housing NZ and the housing sector to make more public housing available in Rotorua, where there are currently 630 public housing tenancies, as well as transitional housing."

The council's chief executive, Geoff Williams, said a shelter was only part of the solution, not the complete solution.

"When we had the meeting we had two aspects in mind, one is that we wanted to be of assistance but secondly in being of assistance it's imperative that what was actually going to be provided was, in fact, safe and fit for purpose."

He said as a consenting authority the council was under the guidance of the Building Act and could not let people use the building for whatever they liked without running some checks.

"From square one it was identified the building did need some investigation work, we did need to understand how the building performed."

He said a drop-in centre was seen as an opportunity to provide relief, support and the opportunity to be off the street.

"It was seen as an attractive and viable solution until the consenting work had been completed."

The council's kaiwhakahaere Māori, Gina Rangi, said the council had done "an immense amount of work on solutions" not just with Deane but with other providers as well.

"I would hope we have a good relationship with Deane and can continue to work together."

Getting in touch with the Ministry of Social Development
• Call 0800 559 009 or visit Work and Income.
• Staff are also at Rotorua's day-time drop-in centre for homeless people each morning.
• Once connected with someone, MSD can get into action to support them, working alongside local organisations like LinkPeople, the Salvation Army and Visions of a Helping Hand.