Drop-in centre unlikely to reopen

19:05, Mar 17 2014
FINANCIAL STRUGGLE: Te Whai Oranga committee members Leslie Wright, left, Venese Baird and Johnene Kainuku outside House 44 in Karaka St.

House 44 may be closing its doors for good.

The Stoke charitable trust that runs the House 44 community drop-in centre has shut, unable to secure funding.

Registered in 2008, the trust runs its centre out of a Housing New Zealand property in Karaka St, and has been the base for a range of groups and activities for young people and adults.

When the Nelson Mail sought to speak to the trust on Friday, it had been replaced by an all-new committee named Te Whai Oranga. Those who agreed to be interviewed said they had been forbidden from revealing the new chief executive's name.

Committee member Leslie Wright said the change began around June last year, two months after the board was accused at a special meeting of mislaying around $300,000.

An independent auditor said after the meeting that the trust's financial statements complied with generally accepted accounting practices, but added that House 44 had had limited control over the revenues from cash transactions prior to them being recorded.


Committee member and administrator Venese Baird said funding had become impossible to get after the financial scandal broke. In the last available records from 2011, House 44 received $45,000 from the Ministry of Social Development, $25,000 from the Canterbury Community Trust and $20,565 from the Nelson City Council, among other grants.

The council revealed in May that it was withholding funding from House 44 until the troubled trust dealt with problems in its management and finances. The council has provided $108,195 to the Karaka St community centre since 2008, and had budgeted a further $31,600 for the 2013-14 financial year and $24,600 for 2014-15.

Ms Baird confirmed on Friday that no agencies were now funding Te Whai Oranga committee. "It was pretty hard with all the bad publicity," she said. "House 44 had a bad name and no funders would touch us."

"We sold our van to help pay the bills," Mr Wright said.

Mr Wright, Ms Baird and committee member Johnene Kainuku claimed last week that the committee had been asked to leave House 44's HNZ property following the changes to the organisational structure, as HNZ's agreement did not cover the dissolution of House 44 and its replacement with Te Whai Oranga. They said they had been told that they could hold on to the property if they paid market rent of about $275 a week, but agreed this was not possible with their current dearth of funding.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said this was incorrect. He said House 44 had been provided with the Karaka St property as part of the Community Group Housing programme, saying the trouble with its lease was because it was no longer eligible to be part of the programme.

HNZ's national manager of tenancy support services Karen Hocking said organisations which received Community Group Housing subsidies had to be contracted to provide residential services by another government agency. They also had to be accredited, audited and monitored by a government agency to provide residential services; a registered charity, incorporated society or a government funded provider; and have sufficient funding, governance structure and management capability to achieve the desired outcomes.

"Housing New Zealand has worked with House 44 and supported them through a challenging period, and in September last year gave them an extra three months to resolve the issues," she said. "However, as House 44 does not have a funding contract in place and there is no guarantee that they will be able to obtain one, Housing New Zealand has informed the group we will need to end the tenancy."

HNZ said this morning that they were not aware of any other community service which was in need of the Karaka St property, and intended to work with the committee over a longer time period.

Dr Smith said he had asked HNZ staff to report back to him this week about the situation. He was keen to meet the new committee to see if it was capable of securing a contract that would enable it to regain its subsidy and keep the property.

Ms Baird said last week that Te Whai Oranga planned to clear its possessions out of the property over the next two months.