Government agencies need to "get out of the way for Māori providers".
That's according to Whānau Ora chairwoman Merepeka Raukawa-Tait following the release of a report into the extent of concerns about the lack of affordable housing, mental health services, loss of income and employment in Rotorua.
The Salvation Army released the State of our Communities Report this week, shining the spotlight on mental health, housing, income and employment in Rotorua, Johnsonville and Queenstown through a Covid-19 recovery and Election 2020 lensRotorua was chosen due to its significant Māori population and 128 surveys were done in the city. Four key community leaders were also spoken to.
The report revealed homelessness, particularly rough sleepers, was the number one concern.
There was a strong call to address housing and employment issues which trickled into the homeless crisis and move towards more sustainable housing, away from motel housing.
As of June, there were 540 applicants on the Social Housing Register from the district compared with 23 applicants in June 2015, the report stated.
Of those, 514 were classed as Priority A, households with the most pressing housing needs.
Locals reported a lack of affordable housing, a shortage of social housing, poor-quality homes, and a lack of heating.
The high prices of housing also did not match the average income.
"Finding suitable and affordable housing is a luxury to the average person," the report stated.
Of those surveyed, one in three had experienced some loss of income due to Covid-19.
Raukawa-Tait, who is also a district councillor and health board member, believed the findings were grim, but the extent of hardships was likely under-represented.
"We can't continue to blame the poor any longer. They didn't invent the systems that merely help them to survive. They should be supported to thrive."
She said Māori, who were negatively over-represented, needed to drive the solutions.
"Resources should be devolved from government agencies."
She said Government agencies which were inflexible "should get out of the way for Māori providers who give families hope and who won't give up on them when the going gets tough".
"Sticking families in facilities where they are out of sight and left to sink on their own is hardly good enough."
At the official launch of the report, co-author Ronji Tanielu, the Salvation Army's social policy and parliamentary unit said in all the community-based reports done over the years, there had never been such an emphasis on the concern about homelessness as in Rotorua.
Tanielu said the housing issue was across the spectrum and people both with and without jobs struggled to find rentals.
One of the key informants of the report was Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman and Te Arawa Lakes Trust deputy Te Taru White who said solutions needed to be transformational.
He was quoted in the report, saying "the impacts [of Covid-19] will be greater the second time round".
"Job losses meant income loss and that also meant that families were unable to meet the basic costs for food."
He told the Rotorua Daily Post the issues highlighted in the report were not surprising.
"We've got real big issues that we need to deal with now, with solutions that are going to be transformational."
He mentioned the iwi's long-term strategy - Te Arawa 2050 Vision - a document made by the iwi, for the iwi, hapū and whānau in the Te Arawa region.
The strategy included the launch of a Māori bank to see iwi money go through their own bank, into their own resources, and the ability to provide housing loans as well as small businesses.
White said things that could "be a hand up, not a handout," were key to solving the complex issues the city faced.
White said underpinning all of the issues outlined in the report was "intergenerational unemployment" linked to self-esteem and motivation.
He said Te Arawa knew what people needed moving forward and there needed to be collaboration with the Government.
Salvation Army community ministries director Lieutenant Kylie Overbye said the extent of the level of deprivation and the poor quality of homes in the report was a surprise but reflected the coalface.
The report highlighted figures sourced from the Dot Loves Data Housing Dashboard series which identified Kuirau as one of the worst suburbs for deprivation in the country.
According to the figures, 16 per cent of houses do not have heating, 6.5 per cent have no power supply, and 8 per cent have no drinking tap water.
Ministry of Housing and Urban Development place-based policy and programmes deputy chief executive Brad Ward said housing construction did not match population growth and new consents by population were among the lowest in the country.
"This has increased the cost of housing in Rotorua significantly, with rents up over 50 per cent in five years."
He said new partnerships and collectives were being forged to address the issues highlighted in the report.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said a collaborative approach was needed and Te Arawa's leadership, input and involvement was "crucial to achieving positive outcomes".
"Many are inter-related and as a council we recognised that when we set our key priority for this term around housing and thriving communities late last year.
"We need to make sure that we are building resilient, connected communities with access to facilities, services and support that people need."
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said, since July 1, it had helped 422 clients move from benefits to employment and made 329 job opportunities available with 151 people gaining employment from those.
This followed an "unprecedented need for benefits, housing and hardship assistance".
The ministry can help with job applications, interview support, health and disability job support and training.
It has also partnered with the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce and is supporting them to help people start their own business.
"Partnerships like this enable us to come up with initiatives and solutions that have the potential to achieve even greater outcomes for everyone involved."
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard said there was an overlay of Covid-related issues on top of pre-existing problems.
"We are looking at a complex mix of interactive issues at a time of maximum stress."
As a tourism city, Rotorua was "hit harder than most by the pandemic" but feedback from business showed a "high degree of resilience, courage, and innovative actions" to improve the business environment.
"We must maintain a balanced but realistic perspective, working together on the negatives and celebrating the positives."
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said the "devastating" report showed there was an urgency to moving away from "dumping people in motels" which cost millions.
"This money could better be spent on long term social housing projects."
McClay feared the ending of the Government's wage subsidy could see job losses reach 20 per cent in the city, "meaning greater hardship and financial stress for thousands of local people".
Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey said the report would not surprise the community and "whānau who are already living its reality".
He said the Government has invested in Māori and community-led solutions.