Where are all of Rotorua's homeless from? Journalist Kelly Makiha looks into the issue amid calls from Rotorua MP Todd McClay to cap emergency housing for out-of-towners.
Rotorua MP Todd McClay is calling for the Government to "stop using Rotorua as a dumping ground for the homeless" and cap out-of-towners seeking emergency housing.
McClay also wants those who have already moved to Rotorua for emergency housing to be relocated to where they came from.
His calls come amid growing concerns for Rotorua as a tourist town with emergency housing clients occupying the city's motels.
While those in the tourism, hospitality sectors and a food distributor support McClay's calls, Labour's Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey has described it as "outrageous".
Locals have nicknamed what was the once-famous "Motel Mile" on Fenton St "MSD Mile".
According to the Ministry of Social Development's latest figures, there are 325 "households" currently in emergency housing placements in Rotorua.
In the year ending March this year, the Government spent $16 million on 11,400 emergency housing grants.
The Rotorua Daily Post asked the Ministry of Social Development for a breakdown of where the emergency housing clients came from but was told it couldn't release that data.
Regional commissioner Mike Bryant said it could only provide details by the location of the service centre where the client was registered, which might not necessarily be the last area the person lived as many of its clients were transient.
"Our housing people on the ground have told us the vast majority of the people we helped were local."
The Rotorua Daily Post approached about a dozen emergency housing clients in motels in on Fenton St and they came from varied backgrounds. Some had moved from Whakatāne, Tauranga and Auckland to be closer to family networks in Rotorua, while others said they were from Rotorua and couldn't find homes to rent.
Moteliers spoken to by the Rotorua Daily Post confirmed they fielded lots of out-of-town inquiries but didn't want to go on the record for fear it would jeopardise their ministry contracts which were helping to keep them afloat after the drop in international visitors.
McClay said there was growing concern from motel and hostel owners he had spoken to they were being asked to accommodate out-of-towners.
"Some say that the word has got around the North Island that if you go to Rotorua the Government will put you in a motel.
"In some of the motels on Fenton St there is gang involvement and the police are being called to disputes. So the Government needs to stop using Rotorua as a dumping ground for its homelessness problem.
"MSD must collect and release information on exactly where people have come from. It's not good enough that they say that they don't know."
He said Rotorua homeless needed priority in Rotorua.
"They need to take the people who are in motels who are not from Rotorua back to the communities that they came from to their support bases and the Government should honour its promise under Kiwibuild and put them in homes."
McClay's calls are being back by the tourism and hospitality sectors who say they are worried if motel beds were full, there would be none left for domestic visitors - which had a trickle-down effect on their businesses.
Velocity Valley managing director Simon Short described the emergency housing situation as a "massive problem" and backed McClay's calls.
He said hotels and motels which accepted emergency housing clients shouldn't be allowed to take visitors as well.
"At Queen's Birthday we had several people through who were given rooms in motels that had 80 per cent MSD clients in them. At 3am in the morning there's guys outside having scraps and drug dealing going on. How does that look for the tourist?"
Hennessy's Irish Bar owner and president of the Bay of Plenty branch of the Hospitality Association, Reg Hennessy said motels full of homeless people on Fenton St was a terrible look for Rotorua's entrance.
"The long weekend was a prime example. I heard there were people turned away because we were full. As things come right over summer and people want to come to Rotorua to take their families, they will have nowhere to go."
Hennessy said while he was also "100 per cent behind" helping the homeless, motels were not the answer. A cap on out-of-towners was a great start, he said.
"Just like everything, we want someone to make a decision. We are playing with their lives just as much as they are playing with ours."
Elmer Peiffer, from Rotorua Whakaora, a food distribution service for the city's needy, said there was an influx of out-of-town homeless long before lockdown.
"We believe other organisations were sending people to Rotorua because they knew they would be looked after but they need to look at Rotorua's model and adopt it in their cities so they can look after them in their home towns."
Peiffer said he believed the out-of-town homeless tended to get into more trouble and not care as much as Rotorua locals and it was giving the local homeless a bad name.
It was also a strain on resources such as theirs.
"With the pandemic, the resources have dwindled so we can't keep bringing people in if we don't have the resources they need."
Destination Rotorua chief executive Michelle Templer was asked if she supported a cap and she said her organisation worked hard in partnership with the tourism industry to inspire New Zealanders to come to Rotorua and have a positive experience.
"We have had feedback from industry and visitors that the extended use of motels for emergency housing is having an impact on visitors' perception of the destination. No one should have to live for long periods in a motel room and we would like to see other solutions actively pursued."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said it was important for Rotorua to have sufficient accommodation options for visitors and she wanted visitors to have a positive experience.
"The fact motels are needing to be used for emergency housing is an issue. More and better emergency, transitional and social housing for locals in need is something our district housing strategy addresses but increasing our housing stock will take time and that's a frustration for us all."
She said people deserved to have a roof over their heads and a cap on "out-of-towners" didn't necessarily recognise the complexity involved in housing people in need.
"However, it's certainly my expectation that we are predominantly looking after our own, and I would be concerned if there were evidence of a growing trend to send people here from elsewhere. We have previously been given assurances that is not the case and I will seek those assurances again."
Labour's Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey said McClay's call for a cap was a knee-jerk solution to "beat up on struggling New Zealanders".
"His proposed cap is not reflective of the kindness we really need to show each other, to get through these challenging times, or the manaakitanga that as a city, we say we do so well."
Coffey said many New Zealanders were attracted to Rotorua, because of the warmth of its thermal landscape.
"It's outrageous that Todd wants to pick and choose who can and who can't come here based on their level of wealth or poverty.
"I also challenge his belief that Rotorua's homeless are 'outsiders'. When I did the Lifewise Rotorua Homeless Street Count in recent years, most were from Rotorua, but had fallen on tough times."
Coffey said the focus on rebuilding tourism and small business should be given as much attention as the support of the homeless community into temporary housing.
"We can do both, and this Government is. Let's be very clear, the future of housing for our people is not in motels. We are working as fast and as hard as we can, to turn around years of housing neglect."
He said the Government had state and temporary houses being built and a specific Rotorua-tailored housing package, done in partnership with iwi and Rotorua Lakes Council, on the horizon.
"These will lessen our reliance on our accommodation sector to provide warm, dry, housing in winter for those who would otherwise have none."