Motels

Motels reduce emergency accommodation places before tourists return

With summer approaching and borders reopening, many motel operators in Marlborough are gearing up for a busy tourist season.

And, while the prospect of visitors returning to Marlborough in droves would be seen by many as a welcome step forward, it could mean a monumental step backwards for those in emergency accommodation.

Since the country’s borders closed in March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic, hotels and motels had opened their doors to those in need of emergency accommodation.

The program was run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which offered short-term and long-term contracts to motel owners willing to accommodate homeless people.

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It was a win-win situation for both parties, as those in need received a roof over their heads, while accommodation providers received income and a lifeline as a result of the huge void left by the absence of tourists.

But, with tourists expected to return to the area in the coming months, many motels that had previously provided emergency accommodation during the pandemic were now withdrawing places, leaving homeless charities to fear the worst.

One such charity is the Christchurch Methodist Mission which helps and supports people with long term and emergency housing needs.

Regional director of the Mission’s housing division, Vanya Vitasovich, said homelessness had become a “significant” issue in Marlborough.

Christchurch Methodist Mission Housing Division Regional Director Vanya Vitasovich said she was shocked at the extent of the problem in Blenheim given its size.

Anthony Phelps/STUFF

Christchurch Methodist Mission Housing Division Regional Director Vanya Vitasovich said she was shocked at the extent of the problem in Blenheim given its size.

Vitasovich said the problem is expected to get worse as foreign visitors return.

“People are starting to travel again so we will soon lose some motels as they start taking public customers again and start using their motels again for what they wanted them to be in the first place – having tourists when tourists are in town.

“Some of the motels we’ve worked with are now considering stopping removing people from our services or our emergency accommodations, which will definitely make the problem worse as well,” Vitasovich said.

One such motel owner was Paul Cooper of Blenheim Spa Motor Lodge, who said he had recently reduced the number of rooms available to emergency accommodation seekers at his motel due to the reopening of borders.

Blenheim Spa Motor Lodge owner Paul Cooper said he had cut the units available for emergency accommodation by a third.

Scott Hammond / Stuff

Blenheim Spa Motor Lodge owner Paul Cooper said he had cut the units available for emergency accommodation by a third.

“We had three units under contract (with HUD) and then we had others not under contract but available week to week, but we reduced them so that we only have one unit under contract, and it’s more than likely in the near future we’ll release that one as well,” Cooper said.

On the other side of the city of Springlands, the owner of the ASURE Sundowner motel said he was no longer offering rooms and units for emergency accommodation purposes, as they were now used to house the Connect8 employees who worked on cell towers in the area.

However, not all motels are terminating their contracts with the ministry. A motel owner, who wishes not to be named for business reasons – “people don’t want to stay here when WINZ people stay here” – said his motel would not reduce spaces for those who need emergency aid.

A motel in Blenheim is retaining all of its emergency accommodation spaces, with its owner saying:

MARTIN DE RUYTER/Stuff

A motel in Blenheim is retaining all of its emergency accommodation spaces, with its owner saying: ‘We think we want and should help people.’

“With the return of tourists, people are kicked out of their rooms, but not here. I definitely feel a sense of social responsibility,” he said.

“When people first arrive, many lack confidence and have lost all self-esteem. But, with the help of the support workers they have and a safe place to live, they rebuild their self-esteem, get a job, and move on.

“There will always be rooms available here. It’s a very good model they’re working with, and we’re seeing the results. These people, we must have had at least twenty that passed through here and were then placed in their own homes, and are doing very well.

“Sometimes you feel like giving yourself a little pat on the back when you see them coming on and doing so well,” he said.

Having a safe, warm, dry place to stay was one of the most basic, yet vital, physiological human needs.

Unsplash

Having a safe, warm, dry place to stay was one of the most basic, yet vital, physiological human needs.

His son, who had recently taken over running the motel, agreed with his father’s sentiment when it came to helping those less fortunate.

“From what I’ve noticed in the last two months we’ve been here, a lot of these people come from very, very troubled backgrounds.

“They’ve been through horrible circumstances and come from backgrounds where they’ve had no support, no family support, they’ve been in abusive families and they’re trying to get out of that cycle.

“We have traveled around the world, my wife and I, and you see what happens where there is no social protection system where people are not taken care of, where there is no no sense of the sanctity of life, so you always feel like you want to be helping people where you can.

“We think we want and should help people, that we should be part of it,” he said.