Rotorua will hum again. Photo / Felix Desmarais
FIGHTING_FOR_ROTORUA in scc logos and signatures
A_260522aerial3.JPG Rotorua will hum again. Photo / Felix Desmarais Kelly Makiha
“Muuum, can we have an ice cold Coke?”
When it’s a Friday at 7 p.m. and we’re on our way
back from basketball, the answer is “no”.
It’s not because I’m mean to my kids. It’s because I’m afraid of being abused again and yelled at for money by homeless people at the drive-thru.
Before Sunday, when it’s my turn to work on the weekend, I check the list to see who else is there and get nervous if I see that a colleague isn’t working as well.
Why? It’s because I’m afraid to work alone. I have been shaken by encounters with homeless people in the city’s emergency shelter whom I have found in the parking lot or who have looked out of windows or climbed onto the roof of our office.
When I get home late at night and need fuel, I don’t stop at my regular gas station. It’s not because I want to go home. It’s because I’m afraid to get out of my car with my wallet and someone will come and ask me for money.
In September of this year a cheerful taxi driver from Wellington struck up a conversation after he picked me up to take me to the airport.
” Where are you going ? ” He asked.
“Rotorua,” I replied proudly.
“Oh jeepers, just a layover or do you really live there? I see on TV that it’s been destroyed by all the homeless people.”
He just criticized what is now my hometown. What he says is not true. Where is it?
I no longer feel safe in Rotorua – and it breaks my heart.
I love this city and after 26 years of calling myself a local, I can’t leave.
The beauty of the lakes, the coolness of the forest or the thrill of hurtling down a mountain bike trail cannot be described.
I beam with pride every time I see local Maori perform, I love being able to have a day of endless fun with my kids by the lake or at Motion Entertainment. Then there is the world class Skyline Rotorua or the superb cafes and restaurants to choose from.
There has always been a buzz around this town that no other place has.
But this city is suffering. It has been used, abused and taken for granted as the motel and emergency housing industry has accelerated. In my opinion, it also resulted in a lot of greed.
We’ve hosted some of the best people from around the world. Now we are being asked to house the most vulnerable.
But you have to be careful not to lump together all those who are in emergency accommodation.
I knocked on unit doors in some of these motels to talk to people and was physically blown away by the conditions.
It’s not uncommon to see cramped one-bedroom units, drawn curtains, condensation dripping from the windows and, behind a tired, overexcited mother, about four children under the age of 8.
They are honest people who don’t choose to be there. But they are desperate. And they deserve a home.
But on the other hand, they are the ones who give the system and Rotorua a bad name.
I met a young couple from another part of the North Island who came to Rotorua because they had heard of the motels and thought it was a good opportunity to hang out with their children and other family members with whom they previously lived.
Then there are those who go on a rampage thinking their motel vacation is a good excuse to get into waves of crime and drug and alcohol abuse, abusing people, leaving trash lying around and being generally antisocial. Anyone who reads our recent coverage of consent hearings will know exactly what I’m talking about.
How different would residents feel if everyone in emergency housing had behaved and was grateful to have a taxpayer-funded roof over their heads?
We can add to the mix the widespread belief that many of these people are not from Rotorua.
The government’s own study into the origin of people in emergency accommodation found that 343 people were, at the time of the study, people from outside.
But is this figure just the tip of the iceberg?
Those who touted the study as evidence that the homeless were primarily locals counted the number of people from other territorial local authorities that included towns such as Kawerau, Tokoroa, Taupō and Whakatāne as being from the area.
Here’s a geography lesson: The region is not Rotorua. Out of town means outside of this town and outside the district of Rotorua. If you are from Tauranga and living in Rotorua emergency accommodation, you are coming from out of town.
I have been reporting for the Rotorua Daily Post on the Rotorua situation for nearly three years and have done so with a heavy heart. I saw the reputation of the city deteriorate.
I’ve been criticized for smearing our city and spreading “negative news”. But I have also seen older women approach me in supermarkets and thank me for continuing to point out the fear they feel at home in Glenholme.
The last thing I want to do is rob a place where we’ve chosen to raise our three daughters.
I have been asked to take part in an Australian TV documentary about the disappearance of Rotorua and the proliferation of homeless people. The answer was “no way”. I won’t tell the world to avoid Rotorua. I want you to come here and love it like me.
I was a journalist and I was delighted to be on the front page. I don’t care at all now and instead get a thrill if something we do results in positive change.
But sometimes you have to reveal the negative to get there.
Just this week the chairman of an independent commission, David Hill – tasked with deciding the future of emergency contract accommodation in Rotorua – thanked the media, including the Rotorua Daily Post, for their coverage, saying that she had been “very helpful” in keeping the community informed.
Hill said:[The media] have a double edged sword on issues like this and they have been very important in moving the issue forward but at the same time contributing to reputational issues. They look both ways and that’s the role of the media.”
I strongly believe that if pressure is not put on those in power, how else will they feel compelled to make changes, work harder, and listen to the people? How do they even know how we in Rotorua feel every day?
We make no apologies for asking repeated questions of municipal and national leaders.
Today the Rotorua Daily Post has launched a major in-depth series, Fighting for Rotorua, in which we will dig deeper into these issues, talk to those affected, dig deeper into the data and ask the community and national leaders how we can make things better .
But there is so much more to do. Targeted support for Rotorua is needed – not just money, but policies that will protect this precious city and quickly restore it to its former glory while giving those languishing in motels a place to call home.
We will continue to ask those in power to take a closer look at Rotorua and ask themselves if what is happening is right. We will continue to ask the questions.
Rotorua will be great again. We will fight for you.