1 Dec 2017

Mothers, children put up in 'filthy' Far North motel

5:16 pm on 1 December 2017

Young families facing homelessness in Northland say Work and Income is paying for them to stay at a local motel that should not be operating, let alone housing children.

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Photo: RNZ

A severe housing shortage in the Far North means some families are taking whatever accomodation they can find.

At the Awanui Motel and Hotel, near Kaitaia, some say that means putting up with blood-stained sheets, broken toilets, roaming dogs and filthy facilities.

Tash Williams was eight months pregnant when she ended up at the motel earlier this year.

She said it was the shoelace that secured the gate to the green swimming pool that worried her the most, but sewage flowing back up the toilets and roaming dogs were also a worry for her and her 17-month son.

"There was blood stains on the sheets, blankets had been just pulled over what looked like the last tenant's sheets, there was black mould everywhere, there was a dog with dog bones and mattresses ripped up in the laundry," she said.

"I've never met people that live like that."

Ms Williams had been living with whanau but wanted a place of her own and had no luck finding a private rental - despite trying for more than a year.

When she eventually contacted Work and Income they suggested she stay at the Awanui motel.

There were several other young mothers who were at the motel with their children, she said.

The Far North District Council sent staff to investigate the motel last week following a complaint and concerns from some of their community board members.

They found issues with access to the pool and had concerns about food hygiene in the communal kitchen, including dog food contaminating the communal fridge.

The motel had until next Tuesday to remediate the issues.

The council said it did not enter any of the motel's rooms as they were not part of their inspection.

'The whole thing needs to be smashed down'

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Photo: Supplied

It took three months before a Housing New Zealand home in Whangarei became available for Ms Williams.

Despite having to move away from friends and family, Ms Williams took it immediately to get out of the motel.

"I don't ever want to see children living there again... The whole thing needs to be smashed down."

Work and Income paid $250 a week for Ms Williams to stay at the motel.

She still owed them the $520 bond that the motel never repaid, despite her leaving her room in better condition than she found it.

Adrienne Morrison and her 14-year-old son ended up at the motel after Ms Morrison left her abusive partner.

There were limited options available to them on the benefit and Work and Income agreed to pay for her to stay at the Awanui, she said.

She described it as a disgusting dump, which did not appear to have been cleaned in decades.

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Laundry facilities at Awanui motel Photo: Supplied

"The laundry was really dangerous... Not only was it filthy and disgusting, everything was falling to pieces and even the roof was caving in."

Ms Morrison said she was bullied and evicted from the motel when she raised her concerns four days into her stay.

She believed many other people who have stayed there were too afraid to speak out.

Staff and the motel's owner refused to be interviewed but said they were confident of the motel's condition and they were still geting inquiries from Work and Income about availability.

In a statement, Work and Income said the Awanui motel was not a contracted provider and while it was aware that there was limited commerical accomodation options in the area, it did not actively refer clients there.

It said that of the 25 emergency housing special needs grants made in Kaitaia in the three months to September, fewer than five were for the Awanui Motel.

He Korowai Trust chief executive Ricky Houghton has been working to help find housing solutions in the Far North.

He has called for a state of emergency to be declared over the housing shortage.

"The reason why ... was because of things like this."

Services in the area were overloaded and putting people in emergency housing or private renatls did not deal with the problem, he said.

He wanted the government to support whanau returning to their ancestral land and their own homes in the Far North.

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The motel's pool has seen better days Photo: Supplied

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