An Auckland motel manager says she was assaulted by an outgoing emergency housing tenant for asking her to clean her room, an incident that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Sue Gill-Devereux, who runs a motel in Auckland's East Tamaki, is speaking out about the distressing lifestyle of managing emergency accommodation and is calling for the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to provide more oversight and pay for security.
She says since the motel became an emergency accommodation provider last year, lawlessness, gang and drug activity have become abundant - meaning she's having to be more than just a motel manager.
'It should be safe to go to work in the morning'
Last Tuesday, November 9, Gill-Devereux was attacked by an outgoing resident of the motel. She says since the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and borders closed, about 80 percent of its guests are emergency housing residents. She asked Newshub not to name the motel.
While she is grateful the guests are providing much-needed income to the motel's owner while the borders remain closed, it's come at a huge cost.
In a recent incident, Gill-Devereux describes how she was punched, pushed into a pole causing her to fall over, and punched again while lying on the concrete.
All this because Gill-Devereux asked a woman, who was waiting for a taxi to take her to new accommodation, to clean the room she'd just vacated - which she'd left a total mess.
"It was just trash, so I said to her… 'would you please go and strip your bed and do the dishes for me, please?'
"She pushed me into a pole out on the balcony… she's punched me in my upper chest area."
Luckily, Gill-Devereux wasn't seriously injured - and while she initially put on a brave face, the shock hit her a couple of days later.
"I was shaking, then I felt just really unwell… I went into anxiety, which I don't have and it was just delayed shock, really."
This incident was only the tip of the iceberg. Gill-Devereux says criminal and anti-social behaviour are common themes at the motel - and she knows her facility isn't alone.
Gill-Devereux says she's sharing her story to show people what New Zealand emergency accommodation providers are dealing with.
"The fact of the matter is, we as the moteliers who have been placed in this position where we've had to go in and clean these disgusting rooms and we have to get up in the middle of the night or stay up all night… I've got the cops here all the time… there's drug-dealing going on.
"I'm not running a motel. I'm basically running a facility for mental health and criminals and drug addicts, and there's nobody to support the person at the frontline.
"When we aren't safe in the workplace, then why are we doing this? I don't know what we're going to do about it because it's just going on and on.
"There needs to be a safety barrier for people who are actually controlling or trying to control the situation at these facilities."
Gill-Devereux says she feels at risk.
"I've got 47-odd people here and any one of them, at any given moment, will just break and there are fights and they argue with each other.
"They smash windows, they kick in walls… If they are putting them in these motels, MSD should also, in my opinion, really provide security for the people that are actually running the place.
"It's actually affecting me and my husband now because… the abuse and the screaming and the yelling and the fighting and the breakages… it's just not normal.
"We still enjoy the interaction with guests and them having a lovely stay and meeting people but… it's burnt us out completely."
Gill-Devereux says she wants security issues addressed at emergency accommodation motels - not only for herself but other moteliers.
"It should be safe to go to work in the morning and then finish work whenever you finish work, still in the same piece, without the danger."
In a statement to Newshub, MSD regional commissioner for social development Mark Goldsmith said the ministry has made contact with Gill-Devereaux about the alleged assault last week.
"Violence is never acceptable. When we became aware of these allegations we immediately called the motel manager to make sure she was OK and recommended she pursues the matter with police.
"The day after the alleged assault we spoke to the motel manager again. She emailed us afterward to provide more information, which has been added to our records.
"We understand clients in emergency housing can have complex needs, and we make sure everyone in emergency housing has a dedicated case manager. We keep in regular contact with emergency housing clients by phone and maintain a record of their interactions with us."
Goldsmith said MSD values its relationship with emergency housing providers.
"We make regular visits to properties to make sure any concerns raised with us regarding health, safety and sanitation standards are being addressed.
"The motels our clients stay in are private businesses. We do not fund the provision of security guards on private premises.
"We encourage any emergency housing supplier or client to contact us if they experience problems or feel unsafe in their accommodation. Violent or criminal behaviour should be immediately raised with the police."
Meanwhile, a police spokesperson confirmed officers attended the motel address on November 9 - the day the alleged assault happened.
"Police separated the parties involved and spoke to both involved and both alleged a minor assault occurred," the spokesperson said.
"One of the parties agreed to leave the property immediately, while the other party did not want to take matters further. No further police action was required."
The Government spends a combined total of about $1 million per day on emergency and transitional accommodation.