Violence, public urination, drug deals and assaults 'commonplace' in Wellington CBD as emergency housing fuels disorder

Wellington's Courtenay Place.
Wellington's Courtenay Place. Photo credit: Getty

Wellington's central streets are being marred by disorder and crime, with locals saying the issue is linked to social housing tenants moving into the area without the appropriate levels of support. 

Matt McLaughlin has worked in Wellington's hospitality scene for 25 years - he owns popular club Danger Danger and says the city has undergone a drastic change in the last six months.

"A large proportion of it can be pinned on social housing tenants that stay in the area," he told Newshub.

"It used to be we knew every face of the homeless, we knew who was harmless and who was trouble but even that trouble was once in a blue moon.

"I don't see any of those people anymore - it's a whole new fresh bunch of faces and it's multiplied by 100."

He says violence, public urination, drug deals and assaults are commonplace now - and it's not just drunken revellers causing trouble.

"It's happening in broad daylight - it's 24/7. There's a real edge about the city at the moment and it's not a pleasant edge."

McLaughlin says he fears for his staff members and patrons.

"I don't know what the answer is - I've had extensive conversations with the Mayor and councillors and nothing seems to be happening."

Wellington City Councillor Diane Calvert told Newshub she doesn't have the answers either. 

"The council is doing its best and working with all agencies - but who's coordinating?

"It's too hard for police - they're the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and they can't cope alone," she told Newshub.

Calvert says some of the social housing tenants are not getting the support they need - which is contributing to the issue. 

"People with high needs who struggle to hold a tenancy, are being housed through the Ministry of Social Development and Kainga Ora and they know it's not just a matter of finding someone a safe place to live - people need higher levels of support. The frontline people are working hard but have they got enough resources?"

Karen Hocking, MSD's general manager of housing, confirmed Cuba Street, Courtenay Place and Manners St have emergency housing on them.

"The Ministry began working with these businesses as emergency housing suppliers as part of our response to COVID-19."

The timeline matches up with when McLaughlin says he noticed a spike in disorder - and he says until the borders open, there's no real end in sight.

"The end would be when we have tourists coming back - the hostels and hotels housing social housing tenants have no tourists coming through so they need to get by," he told Newshub,

"Until those premises are full of backpackers and tourists again - then we're not going to see an end to it unless the tap is cut off and people realise that right in the middle of the CBD is not the right place [for emergency housing]."

He stressed he was not saying that the people in social housing did not have the right to be there.

"They absolutely do - but we just need to be really mindful of other things involved with this.

"I do feel very sorry for people who are vulnerable and need assistance but I don't think the middle of the Wellington CBD is the right place for them to be housed - no friends, no whanau, there's a bottle store right outside, there's gangs, drugs."

Hocking says she has not been made aware of any "recent issues" involving the tenants in Wellington's CBD.

"The vast majority of our clients are respectful of the accommodation provided, other guests and the local community."

But police say they know the area is "overrepresented" when it comes to disorder and assault.

"Much of this occurs during weekend hours and is fuelled by excess alcohol. Police dedicate significant resources to policing the area, particularly over the weekends when there are larger volumes of people in the CBD."

In August, police deployed 60 extra officers to patrol the area during the day in an attempt to deter crime.

But McLaughlin says it's not enough.

"I've certainly seen increased police presence - but it's an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. They're there to be mopping up the mess but we don't want the mess in the first place."

He's hired extra security outside his bar - and say many other clubs in the area have done the same.

"Having security all along the street helps the whole town feel safer. But should we have to foot the bill?"