No bed, no heating and $440 a week

Dunedin's recently closed Carisbrook Hotel has been transformed into a horror house for the homeless funded by the Ministry of Social Development, described as so shockingly poor that "prison could be safer".

The landlord is raking in about $6500 a month from tenants’ benefits he collects directly from Work and Income.

In return, six homeless people are living in dilapidated rooms with no beds or heaters provided — and no access to any cooking facilities. There is a "kitchen" with a sink, but no cooker, fridge or freezer.

Dunedin’s respected night shelter, which lets homeless people stay for five nights and works to help them find somewhere more long term to go, has slammed the Carisbrook transformation as "shocking and heartbreaking".

The Otago Daily Times visited the building yesterday and found homeless people sleeping on the floor.

Night shelter community worker Chris Edwards says she is heartbroken at seeing the Carisbrook...
Night shelter community worker Chris Edwards says she is heartbroken at seeing the Carisbrook accommodation. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Two people in a room without a bed said they were paying $440 a week.

Another room was furnished with just a sleeping bag.

We heard one tenant had tried cooking on a camp stove outside.

And rubbish was starting to pile up next to the doorstep.

Posing as a couple who had been evicted from their flat and had nowhere to go, the ODT rang a number scribbled on the front of the building. A man immediately asked: "You come from Work and Income? Do they pay?". When we said yes, we were told we could move in "straight away".

We were quoted $250 a week for one person, and $400 for double occupancy.

Work and Income payments are funding Carisbrook rooms for the homeless without beds, nor a...
Work and Income payments are funding Carisbrook rooms for the homeless without beds, nor a communal cooker or fridge — at extortionate rates. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
When we asked if we could look before renting, the man said: "If don’t have money, not happy to show you round".

"Rooms don’t have anything at all. So you need to bring like a sleeping bag or whatever you want, like a kettle," he said.

He added that if we wanted a room, we "must be quick".

We rang the number again, explaining we were from the ODT. The same man said he was Jacky Cheung, the new owner, he said had been renting rooms for six weeks — and had six tenants.

He confirmed: "I don’t provide things — if they want a sleeping bag or a mattress they can go to Work and Income, or Salvation Army".

Mr Cheung said all rent was paid directly by Work and Income to him — and he was considering a rent hike to $350 a week per person as he believed Work and Income would pay that much and he "didn’t make any money now — they leave heater on in room 24/24 [sic] ... These people don’t care".

Mr Cheung complained that he had thrown a man out and some of his tenants were "very bad" and "out of control when drunk" but that if they were not violent it "doesn’t matter what they are doing".

Mr Cheung added that if a tenant "damages a small thing I forgive them and if they apologise I give them second chance".

Night Shelter community worker Chris Edwards said she was reliant on availability of decent accommodation she could refer people to.

She had recently contacted Work and Income to ask for emergency accommodation for some vulnerable people — and later learned they had been sent to the Carisbrook. The Night Shelter then visited the Carisbrook to check out its condition — and was appalled.

"This is a terrible landlord, ripping the system off and using the most vulnerable people in our community to do that. It is shocking and heartbreaking to see people living in these conditions and being charged this much rent to do so," Ms Edwards said.

She talked about pinch points of reduced accommodation availability, such as during the women’s football world cup.

"Our frustration is that the Night Shelter gives people warm and safe accommodation for a few nights but then folk need somewhere other than the streets, where they can die in winter. If there is only shockingly poor accommodation like this place they can go downhill fast.

"This is particularly enraging when we are trying to help homeless people wanting to change — for example recover from addictions.

"Prison could be safer than this place, and that’s a view we have heard from people at the bottom," she said.

"The system is washing its hands of people through a dump and run approach that has gone on for years. Things need to change."

Kirsten Clarkson, leaseholder of the hotel before it shut its doors in June, blamed its closure on a drop in customers due to a rise in poverty.

Towards the end, some people were coming in for warmth and drinking water, she said.

Investigation continues tomorrow:

  • Stuck at the bottom of a broken system
  • ‘Fed to the sharks’: Life inside Dunedin’s boarding houses