Angry Rotorua residents at a public meeting have sent a firm message they want to put a stop to bringing out-of-town homeless to the city.
Homeless worker Tiny Deane disputes claims this is happening and told the meeting he wasn't inviting homeless from other areas or making money housing them in motels.
More than 350 people turned out to the Arawa Bowling Club last night for a public meeting hosted by Rotorua MP Todd McClay to talk about issues faced by Glenholme due to people staying in nearby emergency housing.
Those at the just over two-hour meeting spoke of their issues including nappies and used sanitary items thrown over fences into their properties, cars being stolen, a man found loitering beneath the window of a 9-year-old girl's bedroom late at night, speeding, fighting and witnessing people having sex in the bus shelter on Fenton St.
While those there spoke of long-term solutions including building more housing and lobbying for a quicker council consent process, the overall message was to immediately demand the Ministry of Social Development put a stop to out-of-towners getting emergency housing in Rotorua.
Those who spoke said they didn't believe government officials and politicians who have repeatedly said out-of-towners were not being purposely sent to Rotorua.
Deane, who through Visions of a Helping Hand Trust operates Tuscany Villas and Emerald Spa on Fenton St for homeless people, spoke at the meeting and said: "I honestly didn't believe Rotorua is a dumping zone".
His statement was met with interjections and outbursts from members of the audience who disagreed with what he said.
Deane said he acknowledged three people – Sir Toby Curtis, Gregg Brown and Karen Vercoe – as being the only ones who had phoned him to ask if he was bringing in out-of-towners to his motels.
"I said no, how do I do that? I don't have a bus?"
Deane said he wanted to make it clear he only got $45 an hour for what he did.
"For that money, I've been stabbed, threatened with shotguns, I've had my shirt ripped off me that many times by gang members because I've tried to keep the gang members out of our motels."
He said before doing this he was a truck driver earning $37.50 an hour.
"What I get now is life-threatening, I put my body on the line most weekends where gangs have people in our motels and owe them money and they try to come in. I don't get my staff to do it, I stand out the front and do it myself. It's a hard job but someone's got to do it."
He said New Zealanders could go anywhere and live on a benefit and Rotorua people were running to other cities as well for varying reasons, including being "raped and beaten" in their hometowns.
A member of the audience, who only introduced herself as Stella, told Deane Rotorua didn't have the infrastructure to handle more people from outside.
"You can try to put a spin on it as much as you like about helping people … They need to go," Stella said.
Deane reiterated "we are not bringing the homeless in", to which Stella replied from the floor "I don't believe you".
"You're bringing people in so you've got bums on seats so you can get more funding. I just don't believe you."
Deane replied: "But you're wrong. You are so wrong."
Deane said Visions of a Helping Hand Trust had put between 20 and 35 families into permanent housing.
"Me and my wife put our life on hold. We sold our house, I never started getting paid until July last year. I did nearly three years for free."
Homeless man Fabian Waenga told the audience he had been living in emergency housing since July last year and he thanked Rotorua for helping him.
He said "Work and Income" (Ministry of Social Development) was paying people from out of town to come to Rotorua and staff locally didn't always know about it.
He said by having free rent, it left people with other things to spend their money on and that was when drugs and alcohol became more of an issue.
Waenga said it was hard finding rental accommodation despite his good tenancy references because he had a criminal record, albeit an old one.
A motelier told the audience she was one of the few moteliers left that didn't house emergency housing clients. However, she turned to Waenga and said "if you want a job, come and see me", which was met with a big applause from the audience.
The motelier said despite being offered up to $2000 a week for a room from the Ministry of Social Development, she preferred to keep her motel for visitors and corporate clients.
Despite her stance, she was still finding people turning up with bookings through outside booking agents, such as Booking.com.
She said the guests would use those agents and would arrive in multiple cars with furniture stacked in them, proving they were intending to move to Rotorua.
The motelier said she'd had disagreements with booking agents about trying to "sneak" Ministry of Social Development clients into her motel when she was clear on her stance.
She said each time that happened, she wouldn't let them stay and would send them elsewhere – even if it meant having to bear the brunt of the difference in cost.
A suggestion for McClay from the floor from a man was simple: "Go back and tell your boss to have a fight with the other boss and say Rotorua has had enough."
Another suggestion was asking the Government to put 8pm curfews on every person staying in emergency housing and if they weren't back by then, the doors get locked.
Another resident called for security cameras on all corners of Glenholme streets while others called for a tougher approach from police including issuing tickets for all the vehicles parked at motels with no warrants and registrations.
Westend New World owner/operator Greg Dyson spoke of his frustration trying to get enough police resources to take thefts seriously.
He said he had video footage of eight separate thieves who he believed lived in eight separate rooms at the same motel and passed on the information to police with still no luck.
Dyson said having those types of people living together in a motel just "infests" and they egg each other on to commit crime.
Watchdog Security managing director Brett Wilson spoke of his concerns for the city, saying it had never been this bad in his nearly 30 years in business.
He said police hierarchy at the national headquarters level needed to stop trying to be a social agency and instead police the law, and the Government agencies helping the vulnerable were enabling bad behaviour which was having a negative effect on the community.
Publican Reg Hennessy said he had been vocal about Rotorua's homeless long before Covid and each time he talked publicly he was abused on social media for being racist, uncaring and a bully.
He described the problem Rotorua now faced with homelessness as being "more worrying than the (Covid-19) virus".
McClay concluded the meeting by saying he would put the feelings of the meeting into a strongly-worded document which included the message to stop sending out-of-town homeless to Rotorua motels.
He also intended to form a smaller group to voice the concerns and of the area to police, the council and other government agencies.
What the ministry says
The Ministry of Social Development says its aware of issues and is taking concerns seriously.
Ministry regional commissioner Mike Bryant responded to questions from the Rotorua Daily Post following Monday's public meeting.
"MSD does not proactively relocate people to Rotorua."
He said about 93 per cent of clients who received emergency housing support were from Rotorua.
"In all other cases a very valid and clear reason is required before any emergency housing support is provided for people to relocate outside of their region.
He said it was important to note Rotorua had been hit hard by the impacts of Covid, leading to a sharp rise in the number of people on benefits. This has had an impact on homelessness.
"Ideally no-one in Rotorua would be homeless, but when they are, we are there to help with emergency accommodation while longer term options are explored.
"It is very important to remember we are dealing with people and children.
"Most people who are supported with emergency housing are trying to do the best they can for themselves and their family. It is difficult when a small number spoil it for those who truly need support."
Bryant said he was not aware of emergency housing bookings made through Booking.com, Trivago or Expedia.
What the minister says
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says the Ministry of Social Development does not proactively relocate clients to Rotorua.
However, she said clients might choose to move to Rotorua for personal reasons.
She said most ministry clients in emergency housing were respectful of the accommodation, other guests and the local community.
The Rotorua Daily Post pointed out some of the issues Glenholme residents raised at the meeting, including fighting, crime, littering and offensive behaviour, and asked Sepuloni if she would grant the residents' request to stop more out-of-town homeless people coming to Rotorua.
In response she said: "I have not been provided with evidence that the incidents you refer to were committed by those in emergency housing. However, MSD is in regular contact with our partner agencies, including police, to address issues as they arise."
What the mayor says
Mayor Steve Chadwick said last night's public meeting to discuss homelessness and community safety in Rotorua highlighted the need to keep pushing for locally-focused solutions.
Chadwick, who sent her apologies to McClay before the meeting, said in a statement today she looked forward to discussing what came out of it and how it plugged into what the council was already doing.
"The current situation is untenable and of major concern is the more than 380 children currently being housed in motels. These are not appropriate environments for children – they are ultimately the hardest hit."
Chadwick said motels could "absolutely not" be a medium or long-term solution and the short-term use of motels as emergency accommodation needed to be better managed.
"I have had some very robust conversations in recent weeks with Government ministers. They have come back to us saying they support our desire to work with agencies on local solutions, but what we need is a directive to compel agencies to do so."
She said issues Rotorua faced before Covid-19 – including poverty, a critical housing shortage, community safety and crime, poor health and high unemployment – had been exacerbated and continued to worsen.
"We need disruptive change to move the dial in the right direction. The regional approach central government agencies take is not working for Rotorua – agencies need to alter their settings and their approach ... We want to work with heads of government to develop a Rotorua-specific social wellbeing response."