The Four Canoes on Fenton St used to be a bustling hotel in its heyday. Photo / Andrew 220920aw21.JPG
Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust staff Harley Wairama-Whitu (left) and Priscilla Te Hau. Photo / Andrew Warner 220920aw18.JPG 220920aw19.JPG
There's a marae on site at the Four Canoes. Photo / Andrew Warner
In its heyday, the Four Canoes Hotel on Fenton St was a bustling hive of activity for cultural concerts and visitors. Now it's home to some of the city's most vulnerable people after a $1.2 million Government contract to house the city's homeless there until March next year. Journalist Kelly Makiha reports.
The Government has entered a $1.2 million contract with Rotorua's Four Canoes Hotel on Fenton St to help more than 50 of the city's homeless until March next year.
The temporary housing agreement will also see those staying there offered a kaupapa Māori approach through a local iwi trust to help them through their social service needs.
Te Taumata o Ngāti Whakaue Iho Ake Trust team leader Jordon Harris said they were involved in facilitating those services and providing 24-hour security at the hotel.
He said the trust started helping about 50 homeless in five motels throughout Rotorua from the time the country went into alert level 4 lockdown on March 25.
"On that Wednesday night, standing in front of us were 156 people who had no home to isolate in. People were scared, panicked and worried they were going to be at risk, they were going to be arrested and were going to be forgotten."
A Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spokesman said the contract started on August 10 and would run until March 31.
He said it would operate the same way as other Covid-19 accommodation where the ministry funded the motel to provide accommodation and support services that are provided by the trust. The $1.2 million is just for the Four Canoes Hotel rooms until March next year. The Rotorua Daily Post has requested how much the wrap-around services cost.
The ministry spokesman said there were 56 units at the hotel which were expected to house 49 households.
It is just one of several motels on Fenton St now offering emergency and transitional housing to homeless - an arrangement that's sparked an outcry from residents in the area frustrated with living with increased crime and disorder.
Harris said those needing help during lockdown ranged from people from the streets, people escaping domestic violence and displaced people from overcrowded homes.
"The pressure was real for a lot of people, they had no support, nowhere to go, some didn't even have an income. The free meals often available in Rotorua had temporally stopped because of lockdown restrictions and most services were working remotely. We saw it as essential to step up and work alongside our community and other key agencies."
Harris said a majority were from Rotorua and about 60 per cent were from Te Arawa.
"These are people from here or who have lived here for a while. The bottom line is, regardless of where they come from, they have no place, no tūrangawaewae. This programme is about providing them with a place to stand with mana, reconnecting them and finding a place they can call home."
The trust's newly appointed general manager Tina Leach said she was proud to help whānau in a way that added real and immediate support to those most in need.
"This essential mahi aligns perfectly with our values of whanaungatanga and manaakitanga."
Trust project co-ordinator Priscilla Te Hau said managing one location as opposed to five had been better.
"The Four Canoes not only had the room in one location to house all 50 of our whānau it also has a wharenui that was used for haka concerts back in the day."
In recent years, the wharenui has been used as storage unit so the trust got girls from Rotorua Intermediate's Hine Kaha group to help clean it out and get the meeting house ready.
"We have only been here for a few weeks and we plan to begin wānanga to address the many complex issues people are facing which has led them to be where they are today," Te Hau said.
"We can't do it alone, this is going to be a community response, partnering with support and health services to help with the mamae our whānau have been living with," she said.
Homeless not hopeless
Sarah and Graham are among the 50 homeless now living at the Four Canoes Hotel.
The couple have a 14-month-old Sharpai dog they rescued when it was 4 months old after being abandoned near a river with a BB gun wound on its shoulder.
"We could not give up on this wee little girl, so we decided to keep her and give her a forever home with us full of love and care."
But in September 2019, the pair became homeless and took refuge in their truck. Not only were they faced with not ever being able to find a house, didn't know how or where to go for any help.
"It was then we were blessed by the helping hand of Ngāti Whakaue and with their care and support they found us refuge at Malone's Motel on Fenton St," Sarah said.
However, they were not able to have their dog with them so she was given to a family friend.
"It was really hard to have to send her away, but we trusted that she would be cared for and loved. At level 3 lockdown, the team here made it possible for us to have our dog back and she rejoined us."
On August 20, Sarah and Graham were rehoused at the Four Canoes Hotel through the iwi trust.
"We have no way or enough words to express our appreciation, gratitude and heartfelt thanks to say for the assistance they have shown toward our little family," Sarah said.
"We totally understand the pressure they must be going through, to find forever homes for the homeless and people in the same situation as us. Although we did not choose to be in this situation we are not taking advantage of the help that we have been given, because we are homeless, not hopeless."
Graham said the trust had given them their time and a way to tell their story, without making them feel like they were "just freeloaders, useless and good-for-nothings".
"After all we are still human beings with feelings. I would like to give a big thank you to Ngāti Whakaue for just caring enough to look out for our well being."