10 Feb 2015

Auckland hostel 'a dump'

6:55 am on 10 February 2015

A hostel of last resort in downtown Auckland is under investigation, with neighbours saying they are living in fear and sick of filth spilling out into the streets.

But criminal lawyers say places like the Oceanic Hostel on Anzac Ave play a vital role due the acute shortage of bail addresses.

Businesses surrounding the Oceanic Hostel have a myriad of complaints - from smashed windows, damaged signs, and dirty wet mattresses propped up on buildings opposite the hostel - and say tenants intimidate their staff members and customers.

A manager from Ngopi Cafe next door, Monica Angelia, said the hostel was a place filled with lost souls.

People who live nearby said they wanted to see its doors closed for good.

"Drinking on the streets, throwing of beer bottles, people shouting out in the middle of the night, the police are always here for one reason or another ... it basically needs to be closed down," said one neighbour.

Another described it as a blot on the landscape. "The whole thing looks a bit of a dump and attracts people you wouldn't want as your neighbours."

Auckland Council said it was investigating a complaint about a hygiene issue at the Oceanic, and had visited it since it served the hostel with an improvement notice in 2011.

Head of the Criminal Bar Association, Tony Bouchier, said though places like the Oceanic Hostel may struggle sometimes with cleanliness, they were a vital piece of the accommodation puzzle.

Mr Bouchier said people on bail often used hostels as their address when they came out of prison, because they simply had nowhere else to go.

"There's a lot of pressure on them to take parolees, and people on bail, because there's an acute shortage of places like that, who take those sorts of people.

"More often than not they're poor people, they can't afford to pay expensive rentals. I can imagine businesses such as that have problems in maintaining the standards that are required of them," he said.

Mr Bouchier said shutting the Oceanic down would not help the situation.

"Rather than attacking those lodges, or attempting to put them out of business because they don't meet certain health criteria - well I accept that their guests should have facilities that are hygienic etcetera - but the answer is not to shut them down, that will just create a bigger problem."

Senior Sergeant Marty Brown from the Auckland Police said the hostel worked hard to make sure it was safe.

"We have worked alongside facility management to address issues that inevitably arise when accommodating some challenging tenants and we will continue to do so."

Mr Brown said police responded to a range of calls at the address, and they could continue to resolve any policing matters.

A hostel administrator, Tony Wang, said the Oceanic now took on far fewer people on bail, unless the police specifically asked them.

"Basically we don't do anything that's against the law, we listen to what the police or the authorities say, and if we're given a choice, we always choose the safest choice to do," said Mr Wang.

Mr Wang said he was wary when he first took the job, but now is not so bad, as he had established a relationship of mutual respect with the tenants.

"You need to take a bit of time to talk to the people, know what's going on ...a lot of people look and say 'oh this place, those kind of people, ugh'...you know their perception is already set, and it's not easy to change that," he said.