Neighbours angry at church plans to house ex-prisoners in suburban Otaki

The former House of Hope building, in Waerenga Rd, Otaki, is set to be leased from December 22 by Te Whare O Te Redeemed ...
JOEL MAXWELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

The former House of Hope building, in Waerenga Rd, Otaki, is set to be leased from December 22 by Te Whare O Te Redeemed Church as accommodation for ex-prisoners.

A plan to rehabilitate ex-prisoners in a church house in Otaki has angered neighbours, some of whom have gone as far as threatening to torch buildings.

Te Whare O Te Redeemed Fellowship has gained the lease for a building in suburban Waerenga Rd, near a kindergarten and a retirement village, and is planning to make it a house where ex-prisoners can learn life skills and reintegrate.

When nearby residents heard the news, some took to social media to claim the prisoners would include murderers and rapists from maximum-security jails – which pastor John Stones has assured them is not the case.

Pastors John Stone, left, and Warren Sanders of Te Whare O Te Redeemed Fellowship.
JOEL MAXWELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Pastors John Stone, left, and Warren Sanders of Te Whare O Te Redeemed Fellowship.

"You have my word on it," he said.

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The church would house people with low-level convictions, who would not pose a risk to the community, Stone said. 

"I don't want to call them criminals, because they are not criminals. They are people who have done their time and been released back into society."

About four or five men would stay at any one time at the house, which would be a drug, alcohol, violence and swearing-free zone.

Released prisoners would likely come from around the Horowhenua-Kapiti region. None would come from Auckland, which had been suggested, he said.

Corrections said it was aware of the hostel proposal, but it had no plans for a rehabilitation facility in Otaki in the form "currently being discussed on social media".

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WORD LEAKED

Fellow pastor Warren Sanders said the church had not planned to tell the community until after it got the project up and running. Word leaked out anyway.

Stone said the church would now door-knock neighbours, and talk to them directly about what was planned.

Across the road from the building, in a group of pensioner homes, Margaret Wood said: "I'll be more aware of making sure my doors are locked."

Otherwise she said she was not too concerned, and already presumed the people would be low-risk.

SECOND CHANCE

"Everybody deserves a second chance, it's just nobody wants it in their backyard."

Fellow neighbour Shirley Easton said she was still to make up her mind about what would happen.

"The first thing my daughter said was, 'It's time to move, Mum'."

Megan Qaranivalu said the church needed to answer the community's questions about its plans.

"I am for rehabilitation centres, as I know the positive effects they can have, but they need to be set up with the support of the community and with an open-book vision."

ABSENCE OF INFORMATION

Kapiti Coast councillor James Cootes, who met the pastors, said there was a lot of "hearsay and rumour" on social media.

"But as I've said to John Stone ... that's in the absence of information. Where there are gaps, people will fill the gaps."

The resource consent for the property allows accommodation, counselling and church activities. 

The church would cover the costs for the house at the beginning, but would eventually apply for government funding for training courses it would run there, Sanders said.

Stone, who would live at the property with his family, said if people wanted to talk about the plans they could head to the church's services, held every Saturday night.

Corrections regional commissioner senior adviser Audrey Koti said any prisoners staying with the church would need sign-off from Corrections "on a case-by-case basis"  that would have to meet release conditions, which might include restrictions on employment and living arrangements.

"If Mr Stone is considering becoming a housing accommodation supplier to Community Corrections, he will need to first approach Corrections and have his proposal assessed for its suitability."

 - Stuff

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