Wairoa, the northernmost town in Hawke’s Bay, wants Gavin Jones home now.
And if he’s not sent home the town’s mayor says he’s going to go and collect him.
Gavin is 69 and has intellectual and learning disabilities. He has spent his entire life in Wairoa.
That was until February, when Cyclone Gabrielle hit. Then, despite the fact the home he lived in wasn’t flooded, Gavin was moved to Rotorua.
The Wairoa property was run by IDEA Services, the country’s “largest provider of services for people with intellectual disabilities”, 100% owned by IHC New Zealand.
IDEA Services moved Gavin to Rotorua.
He’s not having a crack at Rotorua, but Gavin hates it there.
He can’t go out walking on his own. He hardly knows anyone, and hardly anyone knows him. People don’t say hello to him by name. The fire brigade doesn’t know he likes to follow the trucks when they go out. Shop owners don’t know what his favourite treats are.
Gavin has gone from being a man with a place in the world, to a man placed in the world. And they are vastly different things.
I first met Gavin in April.
We were shooting in Wairoa and Mayor Craig Little took us to Gavin’s former home.
We went to Glengarry Lifecare too, a “rest home” that provided day care, respite care and dementia care.
Glengarry was seriously damaged in the flooding, and also remains closed.
Mayor Little wanted us to understand how, with the loss of these properties, Wairoa itself has been diminished.
Not just from the point of view of no longer being able to offer those services, although a town of 8700 people would be expected to have a rest home, but because the people who were in them have largely been forced to leave.
“It’s not the Wairoa way,” he told us.
Roughly half-way between Gisborne and Napier, many in Wairoa see Gavin’s exile as a kind of betrayal.
Little thought that with the passage of time IDEA Services would re-open the home Gavin had been forced from.
He thought that Glengarry would make insurance claims, get contractors in, and rebuild. And, when that happened, the people would be able to return.
It’s now been more than three months since Gabrielle and no-one has returned. Little has had a gutsful.
He posted on Facebook, saying that while “Gavin’s care in Rotorua is OK, I believe because he isn’t back where he wants to be, this could be considered elder, psychological and/or emotional abuse".
Little has contacted anyone who’ll listen: politicians, ministries, agencies. He’s repeatedly stated the case for Gavin, and everyone forced out of Wairoa since February, to be able to return.
Now he’s breaking the silence himself. “It is like dealing with the Secret Service”, he posted on Facebook, “I have had guarantees broken, misinformation and total frustration".
Gavin doesn’t really understand what’s happening, or why.
He just knows that he had a home, that somebody moved him from it, and he hasn’t been allowed to return.
“I want to go home, mate”, he told me when we met. And then he cried.
Little and Gavin speak to each other on the phone. “Bring me home, mate,” Gavin says. “I’m trying,” the Mayor replies.
I spoke to Little yesterday.
“Wairoa’s Gavin’s home,” he told me.
“What are we saying about ourselves if we think it’s okay to force people like Gavin from their homes? This is all he’s ever bloody known. He’s happy here. And safe. It’s just not good enough, John. It pisses me off. This isn’t how we should treat people.”
Late yesterday afternoon, 1News received a statement from IDEA Services.
Regional Manager, Lianne Bryers, said: "IDEA Services used to provide services to five people in Wairoa, and we are unable to provide a service to only two people in the town. Whaikaha has informed us they remain committed to finding a suitable option for them and we have offered our support."
Craig Little strongly disputes the assertion that only two people want to return to the Wairoa property. He believes IDEA Services have used the cyclone to effectively close the property.
Whaikaha, the Ministry for Disabled People, says it's now "working closely with the local Needs Assessment Service Coordination (NASC) team to find a suitable option" for people to "return as soon as possible."
Wairoa's Mayor wants Gavin back, today.