COVID crisis helps create real homes in Tauranga
Dougie dropped onto his knees and cried happy tears when he stepped foot into his motel room at the start of lockdown.
After three years of living in a tent at the Tauranga Domain, he was overjoyed by the thought of having a warm and dry place to sleep.
A total of 135 temporary housing places have been made available for Tauranga’s most vulnerable during the COVID-19 response. These placements run across eight motels.
As of June 26, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had around 1200 additional temporary transitional housing places across the country.
A ministry spokesperson says they have been working with community housing providers, iwi and Maori organisations to provide “temporary transitional housing places" since alert levels were put into place.
Dougie, who was housed by Ngai Te Rangi iwi social services, can’t put into words how much his life has changed over the past three months.
"I feel 100 per cent better. Every day I jump out of bed - it's a new day, a new life. That's what everyone at the motel is saying.
"Ngai Te Rangi has helped us get back into normal life, it has changed my heart.
"The first day I went into my room, I just dropped on my knees and cried for about half an hour. It was the first time in three years inside my own place."
Paora Stanley, Ngai Te Rangi iwi social services chief executive officer, says he has seen a whole lot of positive change in clients housed as part of the COVID-19 response.
“When you give people a warm, caring and safe environment to be in, it provides them with a range of different options in how they can move forward.”
The People’s Project has housed about 54 individuals in Tauranga motel units since alert level 4 lockdown.
Service manager Simone Cuers says despite the dreadful impact of the COVID-19 crisis here and globally, it has been a “game-changer” for the homeless community in Tauranga.
“People have put on weight, their skin has improved, they look well and they are more relaxed. It has allowed them to think about what’s next - they are out of survival mode.”
The majority of People’s Project clients who were offered temporary accommodation took up the option right away, says Simone.
“One of the urban myths is that people choose to be homeless. Niney-eight per cent of homeless people made their way to motels as soon as they were offered to them, and this included people who were rough sleeping in the CBD, and tents and parks.”
Paora reiterates that each individual has complex needs, and a roof over their heads and a hot meal is not enough.
He says they need support in the form of counselling, medical care, budgeting and employment advice.
"Their needs are highly complex and homelessness is just one component. Once you have got them at the various motel sites, you need to try to continue to work with them.
“We need to make sure when we deal with folk they have health plans, education plans and employment plans. We also need to address issues around addiction and sexual health.”
He says it is essential their clients receive high-quality care across all sectors.
“When you have people with complex needs – you need to have people who are experienced, qualified and registered to deal with their needs.
“When you can provide a good service to people, the results can be phenomenal.”
Tauranga social service and housing providers say they are working closely with clients to transition them into permanent housing, despite the shortage of affordable rental properties in the area.
The People’s Project has found permanent housing for four of their clients from motels over the past couple of weeks. But Simone says it can be a real struggle to secure permanent housing.
“There is a significant gap in housing supply in Tauranga, around affordable and adequate housing. And because the rents are so high it restricts what access our clients have to the private rental market.”
The People’s Project works closely with nationwide organisation Link People to secure private rental properties for their clients.
The ministry spokesperson says funding is available to keep up to 1200 temporary transitional places until April 2021 if they are needed.
“Arrangements for temporary accommodation will be extended if long-term accommodation is not available for people to move into."
Te Tuinga Whanau chief imagination officer Tommy Wilson says they are trying to place their 50 families who are currently being housed across two motels into permanent housing.
The Tauranga RSA has 22 beds available and is one of the two motels Te Tuinga Whanau have used to house vulnerable families.
“We are helping them so we can put them into long term accommodation and they can carry on for the rest of their lives. But they are safe, warm and healthy with us until they can find their way.”
Dougie is holding out hope he will secure permanent accommodation soon. But most of all, he is extremely grateful to those who helped get him off the streets.
“This is my new life – I don’t want to go back to living on the streets, I want to move forward.
“And coming back to the people that helped us, my heart is still crying for joy. If there’s one thing you can say from us people on the streets, just give a big capital letter thank you to the people that have helped us.”