A Rotorua advocate for the homeless says it’s the police who need to step up to combat a perceived lack of safety in the city’s CBD, not the council.
Visions of a Helping Hand chief executive Tiny Deane also says a petition calling for action on homelessness and city safety unfairly blames homeless people for the issue, something the petitioner refutes.
Police say they deal with issues with rough sleepers or emergency accommodation users in the same way they deal with any residential issue and continue to work with partner agencies to find solutions to issues related to homelessness.
It comes as a petition was launched last week calling for urgent action on homelessness and related disorder in the city.
Deane says there are “only about three or four” rough sleepers engaging in problematic behaviour and they are giving the rest a “bad name”.
“We see them, we see the violence but that’s not homeless people, that’s gangs and that’s drugs.
“Joe Public gets drunk and makes a nuisance of themselves and then they blame the homeless for that.
“The police should be doing something, they should be stepping up more. It’s not the council’s problem really, it’s the whole community.
“In motels, a solo mum gets the motel, her Black Power or Mongrel Mob boyfriend shifts in, a couple of his mates shift in, and then they just wreck the motel. Whose responsibility is it to get them out? It should be the police or MSD [Ministry of Social Development].
“It’s a vicious circle that people are just not doing their jobs.”
Deane says on some occasions he had personally asked gang members causing issues to leave accommodation, and all of those people had left.
“That’s just me, I’m only one ... fella. I just do my job to the tee.
“My kaupapa is to be staunch, to be strong, and to do whatever it takes to keep our people safe as I can and keep them housed and homed.”
He says the situation might be alleviated if residents are better educated on how to handle bad behaviour on the streets - be it by rough sleepers or otherwise.
Deane says he recently come across a distressed lady in the central city and it appeared to him the way security guards were dealing with it was further escalating the situation.
“So I said to my wife, ‘honey can you de-escalate that?’ And she did, my wife went over there and put her arms around [the lady] and said ‘honey are you ok?’
“[The lady] had lost her bag, she was panicking, she was half cut and needed to get back to Auckland on the bus.
“If people don't know how to handle a situation it can get out of hand.”
Deane says he's trying, through private and public partnerships, to get 107 houses built, but expects it would take at least five years to achieve.
“I don’t want people to be scared for five years.
“If you do get approached just say to them ‘hey, I’m sorry but don’t have any money,’ or ‘I’m sorry but I can’t help you’. It’s just simple little phrases like that that they do understand.”
Rotorua police area commander Inspector Phil Taikato. Photo / File / Supplied.
Rotorua police area commander Inspector Phil Taikato says homelessness is a “complex issue” that continues to come to police attention in Rotorua.
“Rough sleeping, begging or being homeless are in themselves not criminal offences but police are called from time to time to deal with issues around matters involving public disorder or complaints about antisocial behaviour.”
He says many of those dealt with suffered a wide range of welfare issues and the police sought alternative resolutions and referrals to partner agencies to assist.
“We aim to engage, educate, encourage and learn from all interactions. On occasions we will exhaust all options and have no alternative but to take enforcement action."
He says the police response to offending inside emergency or transitional housing is “consistent with any other residential property offending”.
“Police are continuing to work alongside and have meetings with our partner agencies to better understand the issues and to find long-term solutions for homelessness.”
Rotorua Māori Wardens district chair Gloria Tangihaere Hughes. Photo / File / Ben Fraser / Rotorua Daily Post.
Rotorua Māori Wardens district chair Gloria Tangihaere Hughes says it will take more than the district council to combat issues of both homelessness and disorder, but there is “a lot of talk” between agencies.
“But what is the action from discussions to actually help the community? I don’t believe the problems are all [because of the] homeless. They’re separate issues. I’m not saying the homeless are perfect.
“The problem in Rotorua is not the Rotorua homeless people. They are homeless people that are coming in from out of Rotorua that are causing dissension with the local people. That’s what we’re seeing out on the street.”
Ministry of Social Development Bay of Plenty regional commissioner Mike Bryant says the Ministry expects emergency housing special needs grants clients to get the same quality of service as any other guest and that clients observe rules and conditions of accommodation suppliers.
“The vast majority of our clients respect those rules, the property of the motel and the rights of other guests.”
He says part of a clients’ assessment process is a discussion about the client’s “family situation”.
“The accommodation supplier is always advised on the number of people being accommodated and we would expect the supplier to apply their guest policy for any additional guests.”
He says if an unsafe or criminal incident occurs, the police should be contacted.
Regional managers also work with emergency housing suppliers to resolve issues, and the ministry can decline further emergency grants if there are issues of damage, theft or anti-social behaviour.
“It is important to understand that many families and individuals who access housing support are New Zealanders who need support and want to move forward in a positive way.”
Petitioner Meredith Herbert. Photo / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post.
Meredith Herbert, who penned the petition which sparked the debate, says anti-social behaviour is not just from people experiencing homelessness but it has “increased visibility since emergency housing has increased in Rotorua”.
She agrees with Deane’s comments last week that intoxication and gangs are also a factor, but says the petition shows there are “many people who have experienced, first-hand, antisocial behaviour from homeless people”.
However, she disagrees with his comments that people need to learn how better to deal with antisocial behaviour.
“We shouldn’t have to educate ourselves on how to handle the behaviour, the behaviour shouldn’t be happening.”
By Tuesday the petition, which called for “the Rotorua Council to address the growing concerns of homelessness”, was approaching 1500 signatures.