Housing crisis

Schools in Rotorua face complex needs amid an emergency housing crisis

As Rotorua grapples with the future of its emergency accommodation, the city’s schools are dealing with the complex needs of children living in motels.

Since the pandemic, schools near Fenton Street had taken in children living in transient accommodation.

And while schools tried to support their tamariki, they often didn’t have all the information needed to do so.

A primary school principal in Rotorua said emergency accommodation was causing instability in his town and there had to be an end point somewhere.

Malfroy school principal Nicky Brell said his school had a count of 300.

About 23 of those children were living in emergency accommodation, although the number could fluctuate, he said.

“We don’t know all of the children who are in emergency accommodation, as their situation can change from week to week, and unless they come and tell us, we wouldn’t know.”

Support for schools from various government departments has evolved as the situation in Rotorua has evolved, Brell said.

Nicky Brell said 23 of Malfroy School’s 300 students were living in emergency accommodation, although that number could fluctuate.
Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The Ministry of Education has funded vans to collect students from their emergency accommodation in the morning and bring them back at the end of the day.

A spokesperson said it started last year with around 50 students and transport was provided for around 160 students at its peak.

“Without this resource, we likely wouldn’t have been able to attract as many kids as we would have liked,” Brell said.

However, he worried about the children who had to move from school to school as their accommodation conditions changed – sometimes at any time.

“In our group here we have three grammar schools in our immediate area, an intermediate one down the road and a number of nearby primary schools, so this is a good place to base yourself.

“For children who are in emergency housing, it is difficult to determine their future, Brell said.

Down the road, Rotorua Intermediate has about 700 students.

The school knows of 32 students living in emergency accommodation, but said the number could be higher.

Learning support coordinator Dean Henderson said part of the difficulties faced by schools was a lack of knowledge about students’ backgrounds.

“Fenton St, where all the [motels] are used for emergency accommodation, is at our back door so we don’t know what we are getting.

‘A lot of times students show up and they’re not from another school in Rotorua, so we’re calling schools in Napier, we’re calling schools in Tauranga, we’re calling schools in Auckland to try to find out what these students’ are and a bit more about their background.

“We’re basically sleuths trying to figure out how we can best support these students.”

Henderson said that as students in emergency or transitional housing progress from elementary to middle school, they become more aware of the differences in their home life compared to their classmates.

“These are teenage students who are basically trapped in hotel rooms, so they look around for peers in the same situation.

“They’re in the middle of town, they huddle together, and sometimes the temptation to go into town and not do anything good is too much for some of them.”

Rotorua Middle Learning Support Coordinator Dean Henderson said part of the problem was the school's lack of information about pupils living in emergency accommodation.

Learning support coordinator Dean Henderson said part of the problem was the school’s lack of information about pupils living in emergency accommodation.
Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Opposite Rotorua Intermediate and just a mile from Malfroy School, a new Kāinga Ora development was in the works.

When completed, it would provide 37 new homes for people in need.

But neighboring schools didn’t know how many more children it would bring to the area, or what sort of strain it would put on their school rolls.

Regional manager of Kāinga Ora in Bay of Plenty, Roxanne Cribb, said the agency was in regular contact with principals of schools close to the new homes.

The agency also informed the Department of Education how many houses would be built and when they were likely to have school-aged children, she said.

Large developments like the one near Rotorua Intermediate would be home to children of all ages, and early and ongoing conversations would ensure their educational needs could be met, Cribb said.

A Kāinga Ora development near Rotorua Intermediate.

A Kāinga Ora development near Rotorua Intermediate.
Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Ministry of Social Development [MSD] Regional Commissioner Mike Bryant said Rotorua had a decreasing number of whānau in emergency accommodation.

The best way for schools to find out about children starting in their schools was to talk to whānau when they registered and discuss their situation, he said.

The MSD was happy to speak with the schools but could not share personal information about whānau for privacy reasons, he said.

“The nature of emergency housing is such that it is an emergency situation – families are left homeless, often because their tenancy has come to an end.

“Wherever possible, we seek to accommodate them close to their children’s existing schooling.

“Families don’t always want to tell a school they’re in emergency accommodation as soon as they arrive. It’s their decision.”

MSD connected families with children in emergency housing with intensive case managers and contract navigators to help them stay connected with their community, health and education services and other agencies. needed, Bryant said.