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Homelessness fears: Some emergency accommodation providers requiring vax certificates

Tairāwhiti housing advocates anticipate an increase in homelessness because some emergency accommodation providers are mandating vaccination certificates for their occupants.

The Ministry of Social Development told The Herald they were “currently aware of three motels in Gisborne” who were unwilling to accept clients without vaccination certificates.

It is not a legal requirement for emergency housing suppliers to make vaccine passes mandatory.

Of the emergency accommodation-providing motels contacted by The Gisborne Herald, BK's Palm Court confirmed that every guest who wanted to use their facility needed to be fully vaccinated.

Another, Endeavour Motor Lodge, is not mandating vaccine certificates at the moment but is discussing the situation with health and safety personnel.

“If housing services start to evict whānau due to vaccination status, we will see an increase in homelessness,” housing advocate Lizz Crawford says.

The Covid-19 Protection Framework (traffic light system), which came into force last week, made it “unequivocally clear” that specific housing services would not ask for a vaccination pass.

“These specific housing services are listed as emergency, social and public housing.

“If housing services start to evict whānau who have been referred to them by the Ministry of Social Development (or self-referred) due to vaccination status, we will see an increase in homelessness, overcrowding in family and whānau homes, which will lead to an exponential risk of an outbreak should Covid-19 (or its variants) reach Tairāwhiti.

“There are families and whānau who have been living in emergency housing in Tairāwhiti for years. Children are being raised in these housing services.

“There may be a perception that they are only supplying a contractual service, much the same as holidaymakers and tourists. This is simply not the case.”

Housing services were providing such accommodation “when no other residence or permanent accommodation is available”.

“The supply of this accommodation is not a private arrangement between the ‘client' and the housing provider.

“Within my navigation mahi (work), there is always a call to the Ministry of Social Development for emergency housing and the whānau and families are placed in housing services such as motels when available.

Ms Crawford said that housing services with concerns or queries should contact the local public health service or their own health and safety representative or service.

“We know that there are protections that will help keep us safe. Having a spontaneous response to the Covid-19 Protection Framework is the antithesis of the spirit of the framework, which is to keep everyone safe.

“Be kind, have compassion and keep yourself and others safe. He waka eke noa. We are all in this together.”

Tairāwhiti Beneficiary Advocacy Trust's advocate Shelley Hannah-Kingi said it was sad some emergency accommodation providers had mandated vaccinations for all guests.

“Families who seek emergency housing are already homeless. Now they will have even fewer options for places to temporarily stay.

“Suppliers are doing it by choice. It is not under any of the ministry's guidelines to mandate vaccinations. I do, however, understand where they are coming from — protection of other guests and their livelihood.”

MSD regional commissioner Karen Bartlett said the ministry's role was to ensure people who came to them for urgent need for housing were supported into suitable housing as quickly as possible.

It provides financial assistance through the Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant (EHSNG).

“We do not require clients to be vaccinated to access an EHSNG.

“People who come to us with urgent housing needs have no other options. We do not want people being turned away.

“We are aware of a small number of emergency housing suppliers in the Tairāwhiti who are unwilling to accept clients without vaccination certificates.

“If a supplier is unwilling to accept clients without vaccine certificates we will do all we can to support our clients with alternative accommodation options if available.”

The ministry continued to work with communities, councils, iwi and other state agencies to support emergency housing, as well as other long-term housing options, she said.

The ministry encourages anyone who needs emergency housing to contact it on 0800 559 009.