Opinion: A Tāhuna winter … to heat or eat?

Tāhuna (Queenstown) has a global reputation that’s hard to beat.

Set at the foot of the breathtaking Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (Southern Alps), our town is a well-known hotspot for world-leading adventure tourism, dining and getaway experiences for tourists and locals alike.

We’re regarded as one of the most affluent places in Aotearoa: a playground for the wealthy.

You’d be hard-pressed to find poverty and Queenstown in the same paragraph of a government brief, let alone the same sentence.

But if you put the Tāhuna charm to one side, a sombre truth prevails: there is need that exists across our rohe (region) and it’s growing like never before.

As a highly-desirable destination to live and play, Tāhuna is facing a lack of affordable land for housing.

This scarcity, coupled with the fact that 27% of homes were registered as unoccupied in the 2018 census, exacerbates the displacement of people who’ve lived here long before it was ‘‘the place to be’’.

We have a town that’s not well positioned to meet the needs of its own people, and Budget 2023 did little to quell our organisational concerns.

A fortnight ago we were approached by a young tane Māori seeking housing assistance.

His landlord was returning and he was struggling to find alternative accommodation.

This young man couldn’t even get a room at the backpackers, and as a result gave up his cooking apprenticeship and moved back to Tāmaki Makaurau where he can lean on whānau for support.

These situations aren’t uncommon, and as temperatures drop below zero, the risks of displacement in our town could lead to more than just an unpleasant night of sleeping rough.

We’re also seeing an alarming increase in members of our community struggling to meet basic needs.

With inflation at 6.7%, many New Zealanders struggle to meet daily expenses, including a significant increase in food prices and doubled mortgage interest repayments.

While the focus of the Budget sought to address the cost of living crisis, Mana Tāhuna’s still fielding increased calls from families forced to endure freezing conditions during winter as they struggle to afford heating.

Everyone who’s received an unexpectedly-high monthly power bill will understand the difficult call to make: to heat or to eat?

Even our own kaimahi (staff) aren’t immune — some have shared that turning on their heating and appliances is a decision that requires consideration due to cost.

Heartbreakingly, they rationalise they’d rather wait until the depth of winter and it’s ‘‘absolutely necessary’’ before they use them.

It’s during these months the disparity between those with enough and those without, becomes more evident.

I’m asking our wider community to think about whether the privilege of warmth and nourishment should be extended to every member of our community, regardless of their socio-economic status?

Our organisation certainly believes so.

As we celebrate the allure of Tāhuna, we must also confront the uncomfortable truth that not everyone lives a life of luxury.

Each time the assumption of universal wealth is made, a significant segment of our community is neglected and forgotten.

By addressing the reality, we can start to see and hear reality and work towards a community that uplifts all its residents.

Don’t be lulled into the same view held by the rest of the country that hardship doesn’t exist here.

If we lift the veil of need across our rohe, we might find the choice to heat or eat’s alarmingly cute.

Ebony Webster (Ngāpuhi) is Mana Tāhuna’s kaiwhakahaere matua (chief operating officer)

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