Last month a third public meeting was held to discuss the Roberton Lodge boarding house situation, which has been of ongoing concern to many local Green Bay residents.
The complaints from locals have been around the behaviour of some Lodge tenants, such as uncontrolled drinking, undesirable visitors, verbal abuse of neighbours, etc. Local residents expressed concern about personal safety, the negative effect on the neighbourhood, and the effect on property values.
There has been an undertaking from Corrections not to refer probationers to the lodge, at least until the end of the year.
It was a fairly heated meeting, with demands directed towards lodge owner Peter Wheeler, and lodge manager Robert Moka. Both Wheeler and Moka were calmly forthcoming with assurances and explanations for the current situation, but at times it appeared they were not heard.
There are at least two sides to every story.
In a meeting with Robert Moka a week later, he told me that when he took on the role as manager of the lodge, there were a lot of changes that needed to be made. It has taken time to put into effect the management plan he devised to ensure the tenants accepted will be a suitable fit with the wider Green Bay community.
He mentioned that initially, the most urgent priority was the eviction of several tenants – a tricky process because of tenancy laws, however eight tenants were able to be moved on fairly quickly. Careful screening of applicants is now part of the management process – a key priority, not only to maintain peace with Green Bay residents, but also to maintain a stable environment within the houses themselves.
The events of the past few months, while concerning to the wider Green Bay community, have also impacted the lodge residents themselves. Many are very vulnerable people, and the stability of their home – Roberton Lodge – has a direct effect on their well-being. While at the public meeting, Peter Wheeler received a text from a resident asking if he still had a home. Additionally, meeting organiser Shari Neva reported that she was saddened that one of the lodge residents got such a fright upon seeing her that he ran out onto the road.
As part of his management strategy, Moka maintains close contact with key DHB and mental health personnel to ensure that prospective residents can be properly supported. While the core business of the lodge is to rent rooms, Moka finds immense satisfaction in being able to provide a secure environment that meets the needs of these marginalised people, for belonging, contact and interaction – needs essential for all human beings. He says that in spite of all that has been going on, there have been many success stories.
From the time he took on the role as manager, Moka’s goal has been to shrink the transient tenancies, and grow the long term residents. He and Wheeler share the opinion that while empty rooms are not good economically, it’s preferable to taking on the wrong people – they are too hard to get rid of once they’re in.
This story is symptomatic of a bigger social question – what to do with people who don’t quite fit in the wider community. Few of us are comfortable with people who have mental health issues, or are socially maladjusted. We don’t want them living in our neighbourhood.
But where do they go? In my opinion, lodges such as Roberton serve the public in a vital way – giving a genuine home to some very marginalised and vulnerable people, as well as providing the bulk of social contact. We no longer have institutions for our social misfits. Like it or not, they are part of our community. The degree to which they find their place, depends on the courage of a few to get to know them, build trust, and break down barriers. Not easy, I know.
Some of these residents are only one step away from being homeless. Surely a managed residential situation like this is better than being on the streets?