Monday 3 May 2021

Complex needs

Closed borders ended tourism and left motel rooms empty. The government's booked out a fair few of those spaces as emergency social housing. But the whole thing seems a mess. Vulnerable people fleeing bad family situations are placed near rather dangerous types who also use social housing. 

Jane Patterson at RNZ has been tallying it up.

Demand just keeps escalating, under a system where motels and other providers get paid on a weekly basis, or sometimes slightly longer, to house people in urgent need of somewhere to stay.

Hair-raising stories continue to roll in to RNZ about what life is like for some tenants and moteliers, who're recounting stories of constant crime and gang harassment being confronted with knives and in one case a room burnt to the ground.

One of the government's own ministers describes some living conditions as "inhumane" and the current system "inefficient and unacceptable".

It is costing $1 million a day for emergency and transitional housing; the vast bulk - $900,000 - is spent on the former, prompting calls for much better oversight of some places described as dangerous and crime ridden. There are no contracts between the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and those supplying the rooms, nor specific obligations tagged to the millions being paid out.

Some moteliers are also speaking out, saying they're being demonised while trying to do right by their guests; dealing with crime, intimidation and violence all too regularly - driving some out of business altogether.

Read the whole thing.  

It's experiences like these that will drive local opposition to social housing being built nearby. Having gang affiliates next door in a motel room is bad enough, but at least the motel should hopefully be a temporary situation. 

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says the "majority of MSD clients who use emergency housing are good people who are looking for a roof over their heads while we help them find somewhere permanent".

However, some people "have high and complex needs and can act out in ways which causes damage to motels", she says.

When this happens, it is paid out through an emergency grant, and is then "recovered from the person who caused the damage".

"I know this creates a debt to the people who have caused the damage, but it's important that if someone damages property they are held to account for their actions," Sepuloni says.


One Canterbury motelier - who has since left the business - made six rooms available during last year's lockdown for short term, urgent housing administered by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

That was to give shelter to the homeless, the rough sleepers, those at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

"I had to have two rooms empty, I couldn't open them to the general public because you can't put members of the general public next to these people screaming and shouting and threatening each other with knives and stuff", he told RNZ.

Furniture and rooms were trashed, he says, and in one instance burned down. The tenant had "stolen two e-scooters and he was trying to patch them together to make one good one and he got the wiring wrong and the battery exploded - that's why the fire destroyed the room", he says.

"Damages wise, I would say, I'd have to go back and look at all the invoicing but I'd say we're up to about $30,000. And that was for just for 10 months. That's not for a whole year."

Carpets and coffee tables were ruined with cigarette burns, with one man falling asleep in the bed and he "must have had a cigarette in an outstretched arm, which then set fire to the couch" which was destroyed.

Frightening confrontations, too, while doing a routine room inspection; a man "obviously high on drugs, I knocked on his door and he just opened a door and lunged at me with a carving knife, you know, he didn't know what he was doing", says the former owner.

He has given up on the motel after the constant stress and physical danger.

"I walked away from it, with the family, because basically the family's mental health was suffering as well."

I wonder whether there would be less opposition to nearby social housing if neighbours had a mechanism for voting out the current tenant if they wound up with a violent aggressive neighbour rather than a single mum hiding out with her kid. I also wonder whether the risk of being voted out would change tenant behaviour. 

I also wonder why motel rooms are considered appropriate housing for people with a habit of lunging at others with knives; we do have a few secure facilities for those kinds of complex needs as they await trial for lunging at others with knives. I know Corrections now views jail as a very last-resort option; they might wish to have non-jail secure alternatives to motels. 

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