Two Gisborne women with children to care for were almost left without a roof over their heads this week after their emergency accommodation provider kicked them out to receive guests.
One was given a new home by Kāinga Ora and opened it to the other because she couldn’t bear to see it left on the street.
Although the women have a place to stay for now, housing lawyer Tuta Ngarimu believes the incident highlights major problems with the current system.
“The reality of throwing people out on the street is that we all know there’s absolutely nothing out there,” he said.
Charlene Tumanako and Antoinette Tiepa contacted Ngarimu on Wednesday about their plight after receiving eviction notices from the Colonial on Gladstone Motel where they had been staying for five months and one month respectively.
Tumanako has four dependent children – one of whom is autistic – and Tiepa has three.
The couple said they were told to leave due to the visitors they had there, with Tumanako also saying the motel objected to her daughter being ‘too loud’ when she walked down the aisle.
Tumanako was offered accommodation by Kāinga Ora on Thursday, but Ngarimu said the situation was typical of a system that required already struggling individuals to be proactive if they wanted to go anywhere.
“There are really deep issues here with our whānau. They’re getting so system-dependent and they don’t want to upset anyone and upset their chances. They’ve worked their way up and now they’re 120th on the list (housing register), and they’re afraid that if they try to push things, they’ll go down the list.
“So there’s all this tug-of-war stuff as well.”
Ngarimu said the issue showed a need for mediation between emergency housing recipients and providers, who he said should be held more accountable by the government.
The ever-worsening homelessness problem in Tairāwhiti has been highlighted by many stories of hardship over the past few years.
In December, desperation forced a homeless family of seven to squat in an empty house run by Kāinga Ora after being homeless for two years.
In January, Gisborne District Council ordered Tressa Ropiha to vacate her temporary accommodation under a bridge or face police intervention.
Ropiha, in her late 40s, had been sleeping rough for more than four years.
Gisborne City Councilor Meredith Akuhata-Brown is a strong advocate for the city’s homeless and agrees the need is only growing.
“We have this key question of deciding what is the priority in our nation. And if it’s not people’s housing, then what is?” she said.
Akuhata-Brown said homelessness and transitional housing were particularly difficult for children, and one of the worst cases she had seen was a child who had attended 22 different schools by the time he was in 7th grade.
“These children live in a very anxious environment [environment]… ‘Are we going to stay here long?’ ” It is our house ? ‘Am I allowed to put a picture on the wall?’
“You put a dynamic of nervousness…anxiety, anger, sadness…in a little person who just has to absorb it and get over it.”
Akuhata-Brown said she knew of two motels that were “totally shocking” with emergency housing recipients, and the landlords were the sole winners of the day.
“They [providers] earn a lot of money from it, so they can be picky. Right now the crisis means you’re going to fill those two spaces with tenants because they’re just in a prime merry-go-round.
“They make so much money from human need.”
Department of Social Development regional commissioner Karen Bartlett said she understood the motel operator had verbally warned Tumanako and Tiepa on Wednesday that no further accommodation would be offered due to several breaches of their residence rules.
The news was also announced in a letter that was delivered to the couple when they attended a case managers’ meeting on the same day.
“We expect our guests to receive the same quality of service as any other paying guest staying at a motel. Likewise, we expect our guests to adhere to the rules and terms of the accommodation provider,” said said Bartlett.
“Moteliers may require a guest to acknowledge the rules of stay as a condition of accommodation.”
Bartlett said the motel agreed to extend Tumanako and Tiepa’s stay until alternative accommodations could be found, but the couple returned their keys and left.
The owners of Colonial on Gladstone Motel were approached for comment, but were unsure whether or not they had issued an eviction notice.
They said their motel was not being used as emergency housing.
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