Homeless woman told to leave

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A WOMAN who is living in her van is outraged that Whakatane District Council is not doing more to support the homeless.

Maxine Smith has been homeless since June 10, when the relationship between her and a flatmate broke down so badly that she was no longer able to continue living at the address.

She had been staying at the Whakatane Holiday Park until she was told by a member of staff that she was only able to stay for 30 days and then would have to leave for five days.

Ms Smith said she had noticed other people staying at the park for longer than 30 days without having to leave and believed staff decided who had to adhere to the policy, and who did not. She said there was also one campground user who left the park but left his motorhome parked up until he returned.

“I think that is unfair. It is nice that some people can afford a holiday, but some people can’t even afford a house.”

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So, she confronted a staff member at the holiday park to express her anger and, after exposing a few heated words, was told that she had to leave the campground.

Ms Smith said she was on the social housing list, but alternatives were few and far between. She said she had been told that because there was no room at Nau Mai Motel, which was an emergency accommodation provider, she would have to travel to either Awakeri Hot Springs or Aquarius Motel in Ohope.

However, due to work commitments and the cost of travelling, neither of the options are suitable and Ms Smith is now facing an uncertain future.
She said she was stressed and it was starting to take a toll on her health.

“There are so many more people in motels and those motels are costing everybody for them to be in motels. It is such a bad situation.”
She said while she was staying at the Whakatane Holiday Park, she noticed that no one was using the cabins that had been built to house people displaced following the Edgecumbe floods.

“I am just trying to live as normal a life as I can and keep well. I really do think that the council has to do something. It’s got homeless Whakatane people – why can’t the cabins at the campground be used for homeless Whakatane people when they were used for Edgecumbe people.”

Ms Smith said the council also had a responsibility to ensure that subdivisions were being established where affordable housing could be provided.

Council places and open spaces manager Mike Houghton said there had been a misunderstanding by holiday park staff about the timeframe for staying at the campground.

He said the Camping-Grounds Regulations Act stated that a continuous term of occupancy could not exceed 50 days, not 30 days.

“Central government granted an exemption to the 50-day rule following the April 2017 flood event to accommodate those who had been displaced from their homes, but this exemption ended in June 2018.”

Mr Houghton said he had since met with Ms Smith, along with elected members, to apologise for the error and to discuss a way forward.
Meanwhile deputy mayor Judy Turner said while social housing was a central government responsibility, the council was aware of the homelessness issue in Whakatane.

“Council does not have the resources to tackle homelessness in isolation.

“It’s a community problem that requires a community approach.

“I’m involved in the Whakatane homelessness steering committee, which is run by volunteers and assists people with breakfast, meals, showers, and connecting them with agencies such as the Salvation Army which has a transitional housing programme.”