New sample survey figures show 21 per cent of those living in Rotorua's emergency housing are not from the city, prompting Rotorua MP Todd McClay to tell the Government "we told you so".
The Ministry of Social Development sample survey counted a third of people getting emergency housing payments, but the exact number of out of towners cannot be counted because it is too time consuming, the ministry says.
The ministry has supplied the Rotorua Daily Post with results of a sample survey carried out in March.
The sample, which was done at random, was 32.29 per cent of people in emergency housing in the Rotorua district, which equated to 124 of the 384 households in emergency housing at that time.
A household could be anything from a family with children to a single person. The ministry couldn't provide exact figures immediately on how many people were living in emergency housing at present.
McClay said, in his view, the survey confirmed what residents had been trying to say all along and the Government's claims Rotorua was not being used as a dumping ground for the country's homeless no longer stacked up.
"We have been told we are all wrong and now they tell us it's 21 per cent."
The issue of out-of-towners moving into Rotorua motels is a hot topic for residents and was one of the key grievances raised at a public meeting last month for Glenholme residents living near emergency housing providers.
Those at the meeting asked for a strong message to be sent to the Government to stop allowing out-of-towners to come to Rotorua for emergency housing.
Government officials have repeatedly told the Rotorua Daily Post they did not believe most people in Rotorua motels were from outside Rotorua.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also backed up the ministry in an interview with the Rotorua Daily Post at the end of March, saying the Government was not encouraging people to come to Rotorua.
In response to Rotorua Daily Post questions, ministry Bay of Plenty regional director Kim Going said the method of the March survey was different to that carried out in the three months to September last year that showed less than 7 per cent weren't from Rotorua.
"For the data from June 22, 2020, and September 1, 2020, we did automated data matching to check on what proportion of emergency housing clients had their emergency housing grants made outside the region. This was to respond to local concerns that clients were being brought into the region by MSD."
"We believe the March 2021 sample of close to a third of emergency housing clients provides a robust picture of those in emergency housing in Rotorua. It shows that the vast majority of people in emergency housing in Rotorua are local.
"The reason for the different results for the surveys is likely to be because they measure two different things.
"The 2020 surveys looked at how many emergency housing special needs grants were granted from outside of Rotorua – this was 7 per cent."
Going said the March sample survey sought to get a fuller picture by including grants given in Rotorua but for people who had travelled to Rotorua recently and whose last address was from out of the area.
"We believe this is the main reason for the change in number [7 per cent in September compared with 21 per cent in March]."
When asked why the ministry could not do an exact count of all people, the ministry said it could not be achieved because it would require manually going through all client files.
"Because of the time involved, we did not do all clients [for the March survey], but a sample. We have very high demand for our services and our staff are needed for that work."
In response to Rotorua Daily Post questions, Going said the ministry was there to help support clients with their emergency housing needs.
"When someone comes to us with an emergency housing need our responsibility is to ensure that they have somewhere safe to stay. We do ask for a valid and clear reason before any emergency housing support is provided for people to relocate from outside of their region."
Going said a leading reason for those who were moving to Rotorua from outside the region was to be close to whānau and whānau support.
"Among those relocating from outside the region are people moving to the region to be close to whanau due to terminal illness or escaping family violence. Eight per cent of those in the most recent sample were from the wider Bay of Plenty."
McClay, who organised the public meeting on homelessness, said the results of the sample survey, in his view, proved what residents had been trying to say for a long time.
"The story keeps changing. Now it's 21 per cent and still counting. Rotorua was first told it was only 7 per cent and locals said then they were wrong. Now through a more thorough sample survey they have found 21 per cent are from out of town. Given this was a sample survey, I feel it is likely to be much more."
He said a sample survey was not good enough and he called for a proper count.
"If the Government doesn't want the people of Rotorua to believe they have been purposely misled then they need to do an urgent audit of all the tens of millions they are spending in Rotorua and tell us exactly where everyone has come from."
McClay said residents had been repeatedly told Rotorua was not being used as a "dumping ground".
He said in his view: "That no longer stacks up. Ultimately, those people dumped in Rotorua motels are languishing without their support networks. They should be helped where they come from so Rotorua can focus on its actual homelessness problem and not the whole country's."
Rotorua-based Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey said "despite National's relentless privileged negativity against these families", both surveys showed most people in Rotorua emergency housing were from Rotorua.
"I join the empathetic majority in our community who understand that the small number of people who have chosen to come here, have done so to be closer to their tamariki, or to support or be supported by whānau.
"We can't lose sight of the ball, whānau. While this government, iwi and local council get on with the job of creating local solutions to this housing crisis, let's replace persecution with promotion of how our local tourism and hospitality providers are pulling out all the stops, to maximise Rotorua's opportunities in the border to Australia safely reopening this weekend."
When asked to respond to McClay's criticism of the Government, Coffey said: "I'm more focused on finding solutions that get people out of motels, than on the origins of the people going in."
Watchdog Security chief executive officer Brett Wilson, who has been vocal about the out-of-town homeless issue, said he still believed it was a lot more out-of-towners than 21 per cent.
He said when the Hīkoi for the Homeless was held in Rotorua in 2018, there were about 150 homeless people in Rotorua. He said now it was widely estimated there were about 2000 people living in emergency housing accommodation.
"You can't tell me that suddenly nearly 2000 locals have become homeless in Rotorua."
"I've come to the conclusion we are flogging a dead horse with the Government. We have to find other ways to make change and there are talks about a significant push for change happening right now."
The ministry's inability to provide the exact data was backed up by an Official Information Act response given to Rotorua resident Renee Kiriona.
Kiriona, who provided her request to the Rotorua Daily Post, asked the ministry via the act to supply figures of people who did not live in Rotorua prior to having their accommodation paid for by the ministry for the period from 2015 to 2021.
The response refused the request saying that information was held in notes on individual case files.
The response said: "In order to provide you with this information Ministry staff would have to manually review thousands of files. As such, I refuse your request under section 18(f) of the Act. The greater public interest is in the effective and efficient administration of the public service," the ministry said.