The Government is spending millions of more dollars on emergency housing in New Zealand each year and new figures show just how much money is being paid to individual motels and other accommodation providers in Rotorua. Carmen Hall reports.
Motels in Rotorua have earned more than $9 million in less than three years putting up the homeless.
But some owners say they have had to hire security guards and are dealing with fighting, drugs, busted-up rooms, gangs and children being left alone - on a daily basis.
The situation has been described as ''an epidemic'' by the Rotorua Motel Association, which said taxpayers were fronting the bill.
Meanwhile, the Bay of Plenty Hospitality Association estimated about 35 of the 80 motels in the city catered for the homeless - some doing it as their core business.
Information obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act from the Ministry of Social Development showed from October 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019 costs for emergency housing in the city had spiralled to $9.3m, with one motel alone earning more than $800,000.
Emergency housing special needs grants are available to people who do not have access to accommodation that is adequate for them or their family's needs. The financial help is generally granted for up to seven nights, but can be extended.
Jedi 3000 Ltd, which owns Spa Lodge Motel, made $834,148 in 697 grants in that time. Its owner agreed to an interview but later declined due to a family emergency.
The Grand Treasure Hotel, which was the second-biggest earner, collected $773,208, with 515 grants. Its owner Faizal Ali said 24 to 28 of its rooms were being used by MSD clients.
Fighting, broken doors, smashed TVs and children being left alone in rooms had forced him to hire a security guard but, despite that, he liked to think of his guests as "family".
''They are good people . . . we always tell them 'you guys are our family, we respect you and you respect us'. We try to tell them not to be violent or naughty, and we visit them.''
Ali had also gone one step further for his guests by providing a full cooked breakfast because he said he felt sorry for the children. Some of them liked staying there so much, Ali said he had come to an agreement with the ministry to do short-term stays of two to three months.
Ministry of Social Development housing and service delivery general manager Karen Hocking said in the OIA that emergency housing suppliers contributed a vital service.
''Affordable accommodation in New Zealand is in limited supply, including short-term accommodation.''
She said the ministry recognised it was not a long-term solution, particularly for vulnerable people with complex needs.
''It provides a short-term solution while more sustainable options are progressed. It is important that those who would otherwise be homeless have somewhere warm and dry to stay.''
Rotorua Association of Motels chairwoman Shelley Hobson-Powell said the number of people living in motels as emergency accommodation was an ''epidemic'' and at ''crisis point''.
She said domestic violence was rife because families were contained in small units and rival gangs living in motels along Fenton St were causing tension and unrest.
The situation had taken a toll on moteliers and now some potential visitors were asking before booking if the motel had MSD clients, she said.
Hospitality New Zealand Bay of Plenty regional manager Alan Sciascia said there was no financial incentive for homeless people to move out of motels.
''People housed in emergency housing are often financially better off as they pay no rent, power or other costs relating to their living space. This is also increasing the demand for emergency housing as it is financially attractive to some.''
Another problem was the hundreds of Airbnbs in Rotorua that would have previously been rental homes, he said.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the council could not solve the homeless problem alone, but it was prepared to work with all agencies and organisations to provide housing solutions for the community.
''As I've said many times, using motels as temporary housing is not a viable long-term solution. It is far from ideal for those requiring emergency housing and is not what visitors expect.''
She said collaborative long-term solutions like the Housing First programme were already under way in Rotorua and the reintroduction of the wellbeings into the function of local government placed greater expectation on councils to take the lead in facilitating localised responses to social issues like homelessness.
Salvation Army national director for accommodation Lynette Hutson said the poor always paid the price and suffered the most in these situations.
''It's very crushing for people to feel like they have no way of getting into permanent accommodation . . . it is enormously stressful for parents and it all becomes really chaotic and that is when people's tempers start to fray and anxiety levels rise.''
She said, unfortunately, because the population was growing faster than the number of affordable homes being built, ''we are not going to get out of this for quite some time''.
Who can be an emergency housing provider?
• Landlords or accommodation providers are required to submit proof they own the property or are authorised to act on the owner's behalf.
• An accommodation provider would generally be considered appropriate if they are a commercial provider or a not-for-profit accommodation provider and are approved by the relevant authorities including the council.
• Providers must meet the requirements to become a supplier.
- Source Ministry for Social Development