An earlier post here by Bronwen Summers bemoaned the treatment of elderly people in rest homes. Her blog is a wake-up call. I was reminded of it again when seeing the reports this week on the housing of families in motels.
One of my favourite motels in Aotearoa is in Rotorua. Called the Silver Fern, it has individual fillable spa pools in most of the units, large, comfy rooms and a day spa. This is the motel experience of well-off people in Rotorua – beautiful, calm and quite luxurious. I checked to make sure, but I knew anyway that the Silver Fern is not one of the sites providing accommodation to those needing emergency housing.
The delights of the SF is not the experience of the many families in undersized, shabby motel rooms in Rotorua because they are homeless. There is a class system in place even in emergency housing, it seems.
I should say I am not against the use of motels to provide temporary housing for homeless people. I applaud the government for this kaupapa. I am disgusted that Chris Bishop and the National Party are honking away on this issue when they caused it, with so, so, many divisive economic and social policies and, in particular, the sell-off of state houses (and support for Councils selling their housing too).
But it has turned into an ugly, exploitative industry at least in Rotorua. Large families stuffed into inadequate spaces, alongside many others living in high-density poverty. Windfall profits being made by the owners of shabby, under-resourced properties, exploiting taxpayers.
I also applaud the government for putting pastoral care systems in place to wrap around all these people in temporary accommodation although contracting this out to the community sector is always a tricky thing. The revelations about the misogynist, violent, exploitative mess that is Rotorua emergency housing must, however, be a wake-up call.
I have been writing a lot recently about what the abuse in state care inquiry has taught us about what happens when vulnerable people are put under the care of others in any institutional context. I can’t bear to think that the system of motel-based emergency housing has generated another new institutional site for abuse, but, on reflection, I would not be surprised.
Just like the effects of global warming are now becoming evident in our daily weather, the results of neo-liberalism, and especially the privatisation of so many state services mixed with increasing economic inequality, are now unmistakeable in our daily lives.
The central idea of neo-liberalism was that the private sector was oh so much better at providing for all our needs as people than government, whether local or national.
Those of us who always opposed this agenda (and it was a smallish number, say 10%, perhaps 20%, of the population) said it will lead to the rich getting richer, to more poverty, homelessness, despair, deprivation, education failure and poor health. We will become a more divided nation, we said. I am not happy that our views then have been entirely proven now in all of these sectors. The woes of our state seem almost beyond the ability of any government to fix. This does not absolve the government, though – solutions must be found.
With economic division comes social division. The homed residents of Rotorua, or at least a number of them, are furious and upset that their treasured tourism spaces are now largely occupied by clients on an emergency housing grant. It is quite ironic that part of that criticism is that some of these emergency residents are coming from out of town, when the income generated from tourism has always been from out-of-towners, of course.
But these aren’t like tourists, are they? They have more children, they tend to be single parents, and brown and probably come with a large dollop of personal and social problems, debt, inadequate income and health issues. Many will have addictions or mental health problems. Motels were not made to accommodate such families.
The only real solution in Rotorua and South Auckland, in particular, is what John Minto and so many others have been calling for – what he calls an ‘industrial size state house building programme’.
This does not now mean the building of beautiful new subdivisions of home and gardens in their own space. Those days are over. Many of the Kainga Ora houses now being built are in apartment complexes that look a lot more like motels than the standalone house on a 900 sq meter section, built by the state in 1940, in which I live. As I have said before, the difference between well-resourced people choosing to move into apartment-style living and the disadvantaged poor being housed together in close proximity is profound.
This means that future housing might, in solving some problems, create others. Proximity breeds all sorts of issues. I have been very impressed by the modern Kainga Ora under Megan Woods. When my neighbour’s power went off on a Saturday morning a few months go, there was an electrician there within 3 hours who fixed the problem competently. As a home owner, it would have taken me much longer to find someone.
Kainga Ora is now, at least here in Christchurch, highly responsive to client needs in terms of tenancy. What I think will be needed in the future, is a much closer relationship between KO tenants and social services to prevent the social, economic, health and education breakdowns (to name a few) that lead to chaos, disaster, violence and homelessness.
In the midst of what is a housing crisis, and one with no particular end in sight, it seems odd to be thinking about a better future. But if we are to move forward, we need such a vision in mind.