Nearly a third of people in Rotorua's emergency housing motels have come from out of town, a new report reveals.
The report has been met with shock and sparked comments that Rotorua "absorbing" other areas' homeless is "wreaking havoc" in the city.
The Ministry of Social Development has repeated assurances that the "vast majority" of people in Rotorua emergency housing are from the city, a nearby town, or have links to Rotorua.
The Ministry's new research on Rotorua emergency housing clients was presented to the Rotorua Lakes Council's Operations and Monitoring Committee meeting yesterday.
The report showed 1121 people went through emergency housing in Rotorua in 2021.
Of those, 778 were living in Rotorua a month before needing emergency housing help.
A further 201 people, or 19 per cent, came from neighbouring areas before moving to Rotorua - including Taupō, Tauranga, Western Bay, South Waikato, Kawerau and Ōpōtiki.
Twelve per cent, or 135 people, came from other areas in New Zealand.
The ministry says of the 135 people not from Rotorua, 115 had valid reasons for being in the city.
The report, presented by council deputy chief executive district development Jean-Paul Gaston, was described by the committee's chairwoman, Councillor Tania Tapsell, as a "shock".
"What I was really shocked to hear actually is a third of people in emergency housing are not from Rotorua. That shows there is insufficient social housing in neighbouring areas - we can't keep absorbing people into Rotorua because it is wreaking havoc in Rotorua."
Tapsell said the council needed to push back more on the Government and other councils in the area and say "you need to play your part and look after your people so we can look after ours".
Tapsell said she wanted the message to be clear that the council was taking a tough approach to stop mixed use of motels through its regulatory powers.
"While we don't want to take them to court, we absolutely will."
Mayor Steve Chadwick said the report affirmed what Rotorua was feeling and had been anecdotally reported to them.
"It doesn't give you that much comfort."
Chadwick questioned what could be done about the "blatant" advertising from motels trying to lure people to Rotorua with promises of beautiful suites.
She said that practice was "not right" and believed it should form part of the council's regulatory approach to stop motels bringing people in from outside the district.
Gaston said Destination Rotorua has been writing to motels when it had seen that practice.
Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said the data in the report should have been known earlier.
She said the taskforce working on this issue now needed to look further into the 69 per cent who were from Rotorua originally.
She said she wanted to know who was looking after those two-thirds of locals before they went into emergency housing.
"Have they got whānau who have just said 'get out, I can't stand your behaviour' and kicked them to the kerb?"
She said questions needed to be asked if those people needed to be in the motels.
"I would question whether they should be in emergency housing. I think Te Arawa, in particular, may have abdicated their responsibility in looking after their whānau members."
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Bryce Heard acknowledged in the meeting the council's work in consenting more houses to be built and "pulling back the shrouds of secrecy" around people who appeared to be coming in from out of town.
Heard said, in his view, the "story" from the ministry had moved from all those in Rotorua motels being locals, to 31 per cent being from out of town. He said information provided to the chamber suggested the out-of-town figure could be even higher.
"We have to recognise a problem to face it or fix it ... To what extent do you think Government policy is incentivising the increase in the homeless?"
Gaston said he was not prepared to "dive" into that question and Tapsell, in her role as meeting chairwoman, said that was a question for the Government.
Gaston also gave an update on the council's latest action to get non-contracted Government motels to comply with rules and regulations.
It was reported last week that the council was threatening those motels with court action if they did not apply for the appropriate resource consent to operate emergency housing in their motels.
Gaston told yesterday's meeting that only one motel had responded and eight had ignored the letters.
After the meeting, Rotorua MP Todd McClay, who has historically said he believed Rotorua was being used as a "dumping ground" for the homeless, said in his view the city had been "harmed" by it and it was the Government's fault.
"The Government has to stop dumping its housing problem on Rotorua's doorstep."
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant told the Rotorua Daily Post yesterday that the vast majority of people in emergency housing "are from Rotorua, from nearby towns, or are coming back to Rotorua to be with family after a period away".
Some had come back to live with whānau but ended up in a motel after that situation broke down and they became homeless.
"It's important to support those in this situation.
"When someone comes to us for help with an immediate housing need, we work with them to find somewhere to stay. We do ask for a valid and clear reason before any emergency housing support is provided for people to relocate from outside of their region."
He said the research was given to the council shortly after it was finalised. "We felt it was important research to do".
It was important that homeless people were not turned away.
The Government and its partners were working to grow housing supply in Rotorua, which he said had high housing deprivation due to "generations of under-investment in housing" as well as a land shortage, and rising rents, house prices and population.
He said the ministry was pleased to "focus on the needs of people rather than where they come from" - but the majority were from Rotorua, as previous research had also shown.
He said of the 135 people not from Rotorua, 115 had valid reasons for being in the city. The ministry could not establish a link for the other 20.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said she asked the ministry to conduct the research following its reports in September 2020 and March and April 2021. She said the findings would help inform the Government's review of emergency housing.
She reiterated that motels were not seen as a long-term answer for housing, but the Government did need to meet people's immediate needs.
Work was underway to increase housing supply and affordability, and to improve emergency housing.