SociaLink concerned at Aroha House closure

Western Bay social and community sector advocate SociaLink is concerned that a Tauranga emergency housing provider has been forced to close in the middle of the city’s homelessness crisis.

Aroha House in Cameron Rd was set up by Memphis Robson-Frentz in 2020, who changed her backpackers into an emergency housing provider at the beginning of Covid because she saw the desperation of families unable to find accommodation in the city.

The former backpackers offered a safe, drug and alcohol-free environment with 24-hour staffing and security for up to 40 people at a time.

However the Ministry of Social Development has now told her the “need was not there” for emergency housing in the region and they would no longer be placing new families there. MSD said it preferred to use providers with self-contained facilities and Aroha House had shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. It said anyone living rough should talk to them for assistance.

Memphis is devastated by the closure. Her landlord, who bought the building last year, has told her she can not use the building for social housing so she now needs her Hello Backpacker business up and running to create income so she can sell it.

“I always knew there was a need in the city and I had no intention of going back to being a backpackers but I need income.

“Something bigger is coming out of this. It needs to. There needs to be rehabilitation places everywhere because we have communities in crisis.

“I have a huge vision for the way I wanted to move forward with Aroha House. I know that things
always happen for a reason and maybe this was meant to happen to blow out the real deal of what has been going on in this sector for a long time.

“There’s a micro community here, and the key thing about shared facilities is that people engage with each other. We’re here 24/7 to listen and help each other. Social housing needs more facilities and the right support, working with people, teaching skills and not judging.”
She said she has about eight calls a week from agencies desperate for housing for families. One young woman had a four month old and a 16 month old in a car, a young man was left with three small children with significant needs, another abandoned by his partner.

SociaLink’s acting general manager Christa George said it heard from the social sector that there was still a lot of hidden need, even if official figures suggested a decline.

“While MSD is preferring to use providers who offer self-contained facilities, this will take time to develop. In the meantime surely it is better to share facilities in a well-run shared house and have space for children to be themselves than have to use a toilet at a local park.

“We need to help our local community more. Here we have someone who has literally put their all into providing much-needed accommodation.

“We need people like that with the compassion and nous to set these things up while we wait for more much-needed state housing. But they need support, not challenges. We can only hope the new government will show as much compassion and understanding for people who find themselves in awful predicaments, as Memphis did.”

Christa George said the path should be made as smooth as possible to provide essential social housing, and the people who step up to provide facilities should get as much support from agencies such as MSD.

In Tauranga, between 1 April – 30 June, 174 applicants applied for Emergency Housing Grants. At the end of this period, 114 households (132 adults and 180 children) remained in Emergency Housing.

In August there were 834 applicants on the public housing register in Tauranga, an increase of 9.4 percent from March. Kāinga Tupu’s Point in Time Count found 309 people living without shelter or in targeted temporary accommodation within the Western BOP sub-region (March 2023)