Coronavirus: Charity says COVID-19 a 'blessing in disguise' for Rotorua’s homeless

The man behind a Rotorua homeless charity says despite the catastrophic nature of COVID-19, New Zealand's lockdown has been a "blessing in disguise" for the city's rough sleepers.

Staying at home is difficult when you don't have a home to go to, so Tiny Deane, from charity organisation Visions of a Helping Hand, decided to help New Zealand's most vulnerable.

With support from the Government, Deane has been able to house almost 200 people in motels. He and his wife Lynley have provided enough support that many of the residents are now ready to seek jobs and homes of their own.

He put Rotorua's rough sleepers in an empty four-star motel for the lockdown and said when they walked into their rooms they "couldn't believe it".

Deane and his wife Lynley have been running a night shelter for several years.

But because it only offered communal sleeping it couldn't stay open for the COVID-19 lockdown.

Deane says he knew the people he helped needed to be off the streets.

"We didn't really give them an option, we said you need to be off the streets, you need to be in your own room which we are going to provide," he told Newshub.

"We didn't have one push back."

With Māori wardens on-site, support from social workers and a psychiatrist, and a strict no-tolerance policy for anti-social behaviour or drugs the change has been noticeable.

"I see this lot here saying we want to stay here forever, or we want to have a roof over our heads forever, and that's a change from where they were at three, four weeks ago," said Lynley.

Mothers and children from their women's shelter are also being housed in a separate part of the motel.

Resident Siobhan Petera said the motel is ideal.

"It's cosy as - I've got my three kids here with me and we've got our own space," she told Newshub. 

As well as the 58 rooms he's filled in two Rotorua motels Deane is also housing rough sleepers and those in need in three motels in Taupo.

Now Deane and Lynley want to keep up the momentum and are in discussions with the Government which has funded the stay to keep it going for a further twelve months before they can start housing the residents through their charity.