Is Rotorua better off having the homeless living in motels? Kelly Makiha talks to Fenton St and Glenholme residents who are frustrated with bad behaviour from their new neighbours.
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Rotorua's famous "Motel Mile" on Fenton St has become "MSD Mile", according to those in the area who say they aren't happy with the influx of homeless people now living in motels.
They say the problem of homelessness hasn't been solved, just moved and now they are the ones dealing with the bad behaviour from people spitting, swearing, tagging, fighting, smashing windows and being drunk and drugged.
Residents and business owners say there are dumped supermarket trolleys around the area and rubbish strewn around. They say it's a bad look for tourism and another solution needs to be found.
Rotorua's controversial Night Shelter on Pukuatua St in the city centre operated by Visions of a Helping Hand Trust shut down in April as homeless people all over New Zealand were rounded up and put in motels to ensure everyone complied with lockdown rules.
The trust has said the shelter will not reopen and the Government has previously said it intends to keep homeless people in motels until April next year to allow time for more housing to become available.
Inner-city businesses, who had long complained about the antics of the homeless in the city, have previously told the Rotorua Daily Post they are happy the homeless no longer loiter in the central city.
However, those in the Fenton St area say they were also not welcome there. Many of those spoken to by the Rotorua Daily Post didn't want to be named for fear of retribution.
It is estimated more than 15 motels in the Fenton St area are now used by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) for the homeless, with only about four moteliers remaining completely emergency housing-free, according to one motelier.
The motelier, who didn't want to be named, said they owned their motel and chose not to take on homeless clients to ensure their visitors were kept safe and enjoyed their stay.
She estimated about 80 per cent of the motels in the area were foreign-owned and either the owners didn't live in the area or they no longer stayed at the motels, meaning "guests" could "run riot".
She said those who weren't owner-operators weren't invested in Rotorua and had different attitudes.
"They get way more money than what we do and that's their choice but it has an effect on us and an effect on Rotorua.
"For many, it's just about the money and it's really hard on us."
She said they had been there three years and Rotorua had changed so much in that time.
"There was no WINZ clients then and it was just normal customers."
When the Rotorua Daily Post called the motelier, she said there was a stoush happening outside.
"Right now I'm looking out the window and there's a woman on the footpath having an argument and the boyfriend is telling her what to do and has the finger up."
The Rotorua Daily Post tried unsuccessfully to contact some motel owners known to house homeless. They either were not on-site, did not answer the phones or did not reply to emails.
A Glenholme resident said the behaviour of those staying in the area was disgusting and frightening for the residents.
She said most of the trouble seemed to come from young ones staying in motels that weren't connected to Vision of a Helping Hand Trust - which is operating four-star motels for the homeless previously at the night shelter at Tuscany Villas and Emerald Spa Resort.
She said the trust-operated motels had some security but others staying in nearby motels were left to loiter and do what they wanted.
"All we have done is move the issues from the city centre to Fenton St Motel Mile is now nicknamed MSD Mile."
She said the bad behaviour had got worse since level 2 and she feared what would happen in level 1 next week.
"Trolleys, rubbish, tagging, drinking on the street and at the bus stops, domestics. Many in our street are elderly and they are too scared to make a fuss in case of retaliation."
One resident has had rubbish from a next-door motel turfed over the fence on to her property regularly and another woman who confronted young ones hanging over her fence and pulling out her plants had her fence tagged that night, the woman said.
The woman said she and her husband built their home in the area a few years ago but were now considering selling.
"All that's happened is it's moved from the city to us. It's not solved anything in terms of their behaviour."
She said she understood homelessness and realised there were genuine cases.
"We want people to be well and warm but people forget we have rights too ... You just can't encroach on other people's spaces and behave like that."
A local church leader, who didn't want to be named or have his church identified, said they had never had an issue but now they were dealing with vandalism, broken windows and things being thrown on their roof.
He said residents in the area had mentioned their concerns to the church and he said there was a need for the authorities to do something.
"As Christians, we have a charitable spirit. We try to pray for people and we want to help if we can, we understand the need. As a church, we strive to be God's people and try to have a heart for everyone. It's really tough because where do you put them?"
The leader said there were other factors, like substance abuse, which needed addressing.
"We are trying to put our trust in God and pray that people in charge will find a solution."
Urbano Bistro owner Richard Sewell said they had noticed the change in Fenton St.
"We had a lot of support from moteliers south of us with 22 motels being big supporters but in the last 12 months, we have only three motels left (that don't have emergency housing clients).
"It's not affecting our immediate business practice with intimidation or anything silly like that but it's certainly added another element in the area."
Sewell said he had been grateful for the other support his restaurant had been given which helped soften the Covid-19 blow.
"We've had a really good run. Queen's Birthday weekend was huge and we've had a lot of support. We have fulltime jobs for all our staff who wanted them and that's the most important part."
However, Sewell said he was concerned as the emergency housing clients weren't a "good look" for a re-building Rotorua.
"I was surprised they chose four-star accommodation for them. There is an awful lot of money being thrown around ... but there's not much we can do about it."
He said he had noticed the increased police presence on Fenton St and he appreciated police were keeping tabs.
"I'm sure these people (the homeless) appreciate the fact they have a roof over their heads, well I hope they do. We just have to work our way through."
Rotorua Motel Association chairman Mike Gallagher said although he could understand motels needing to house the homeless to help prop up their businesses, he feared many of the available beds needed for visitors would be taken.
"On the odd occasion Rotorua does become full, there are less beds available and that has a flow-on effect to those wonderful attractions and restaurants we have.
"Rotorua's tourism is a real eco-system and we really need each other to work, otherwise the links become broken.
"The not so aesthetically pleasing appeal currently along Fenton St can be a concern on some days."
What the Ministry of Social Development says
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner for social development Mike Bryant said they had been made aware of incidents on Fenton St and were "sympathetic" to any concerns raised by communities.
"The needs of each client are unique and therefore the length of their stay would depend on the individual's situation.
"We work with accommodation owners, partner agencies and community groups to resolve any issues where possible. However, it is also important that vulnerable people are not left without somewhere to live."
Bryant said the ministry worked daily with about 50 emergency housing suppliers in Rotorua that supported about 350 households with their urgent housing needs.
What Rotorua police say
Rotorua police area commander Inspector Phil Taikato said there had not been an increase in crime as a result of the homeless living in motels.
Police were regularly patrolling the area and were working in tightly with security officers at some of the motels.
He asked the Rotorua community to have patience and faith.
"There is a lot happening currently behind the scenes between various stakeholder organisations. We ask the community and businesses for patience as a more sustainable and palatable solution will be implemented in the future."
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March 24, 2020:
Homeless and those freedom camping put into motels for level 4 lockdown
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