Woman in Hamilton emergency housing motel refuses to give in to gang's prostitution and drug threats

A mother who says she's been threatened by a gang to turn to prostitution and deal drugs, claims life in emergency housing motels can be a fight for survival.

She's one of two women in Hamilton who blew the whistle this week to officials about the gang allegations.

"We're nothing but a game to them, they are the predators and we are the prey," she told Newshub's Karen Rutherford in an exclusive interview.

The woman, who we will refer to as 'Maggie', is sick of the hold that she claims gangs have over women in emergency housing motels.

"If I don't join the prostitution ring, or do some selling of drugs on the side, they'll go after my kids."

But she says she refuses to give in to them.

"I'm just a dead woman walking. To say I'm not scared would be a lie."

Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures show 7707 New Zealanders were living in emergency housing as at September 30.

According to Maggie, most of the women in her motel in Hamilton's Ulster Street are threatened by a gang when they move in.

We've chosen not to name the gang for her safety.

"You hope, and you dare to have a dream. You think it's safe and you are going to have wrap-around services and support but that's not the case at all. We're fighting for our lives."

Maggie said as a former meth user she's no saint, but is trying to get her life back on track.

She claimed she's complained to motel staff and to MSD, but her case manager keeps changing.

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Ministry of Social Development Regional Commissioner Te Rehia Papesch told Newshub: "We are aware of two serious anonymous complaints in Hamilton regarding intimidating behaviour and prostitution."

Papesch said reports of violence and intimidation are concerning.

"Staff regularly visit all motels and if someone doesn't feel safe it aims to work with them to identify alternative accommodation, and encourage them to report any criminal activity to police."

All clients have a dedicated case manager and in Hamilton that person "is typically working with around 45 clients and housing navigators work with approximately 20 clients at any one time" so there is support.

Hamilton's mayor has met with MSD and said: "It's not that Ulster St is the only place this behaviour is happening, but we believe by concentrating it in this way it's making it worse."

She wants land freed up for more affordable housing and to explore ways to "pepper-pot" emergency housing around the city.

Police said they respond where appropriate to reports of gang activity in the Ulster Street area but "have not received any formal complaints that specifically relate to women being threatened by gang members and pressured into prostitution and selling drugs".

Hamilton Area Commander Inspector Andrea McBeth said: "I understand that a person spoke with the mayor's office, but did not want to make a formal complaint to police which makes any investigation difficult."