Rotorua residents 'frustrated' by large number of homeless in motels, elderly feel unsafe - National MP Todd McClay

Rotorua's MP says residents are frustrated by the number of homeless people living in emergency housing motels in the city's centre, with some no longer feeling safe.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year and New Zealand was thrust into lockdown, motels in Rotorua typically used by international tourists were instead filled with homeless people. However, when alert level 4 came to an end, the motels remained occupied.

National's Todd McClay held a public meeting on Monday night about roughly 2000 homeless people living across 45 motels in Rotorua. The amount spent on emergency housing in the district hit north of $5.6 million in December, up from $4.6m three months prior. 

"They are coming from all over. Some of them will be from Rotorua, but what we heard last night from a man who was in a motel - who had been homeless - is that people are turning up from all over the country. They have been told if they go there, they will be put in a motel," McClay told The AM Show on Tuesday morning.

He says the temporary accommodation situation isn't fair to either those inside the motels nor the locals. 

"If you look at the suburbs around Fenton St, which is where most of the challenge is, crime rates have gone through the roof," he said.

"We heard anger last night, but actually it is frustration from local residents who are saying their quality of life has changed, elderly don't feel safe anymore because you are seeing gangs and you seeing drugs and you are seeing intimidation."

Insp Phil Taikato,​ area commander of Rotorua police, told Stuff last week that crime had "relocated" from other parts of the city to the Fenton St area, but that overall crime in Rotorua was down 10 percent over the last year. He said there was just a "perception" that there's more crime happening there.

McClay pushed back on that when speaking to Newshub on Monday, saying that if the crime rate has fallen across the city, it's because of lockdown. 

The MP said locals at his meeting want police to be able to act and also wants to see a plan to stop more homeless people coming to Rotorua. He suggests putting a cap on the number of homeless people in emergency housing, looking at ways at moving people back to their support bases, and ultimately building more houses. 

Rotorua's Mayor Steve Chadwick said in January that the council wanted more "urgent progress" on getting people out of emergency accommodation. 

"We have a housing plan, we are aligned with the Government on what needs to happen and are working in partnership with its agencies, iwi and other relevant stakeholders. What we need to see now is some real impetus on building and moving people out of emergency accommodation and into homes."

McClay acknowledged that people were put into motels when National was in power, but says the number has risen dramatically since then.

"In Rotorua, we got to 100 people in motels and we put a cap on it and we started taking them back to where they came from and rehousing them. We got down to about 10.

"In the last quarter of last year, $5.6 million was spent on motels in Rotorua. If you jump back to the last quarter of 2017 when we had gone out of Government, it was $207,000. It has exploded."

In October 2017, there were 1009 clients receiving an emergency housing special needs grant. That had grown to 8503 by December 2020. Earlier this month, it was revealed about $1 million was being spent each day on transitional and emergency housing.