A homeless person’s few belongings stuck in the Carisbrook, which Otago Daily Times exposed as one of the city’s “Houses of Horror”. Photos / Stephen Jaquiery
Jacky Cheung, the owner of the slum-house former Carisbrook Hotel, slapped three homeless people in his building with hand-written eviction notices last night — hours after government officials swooped in again to scrutinise conditions.
Cheung is also refusing to let homeless woman Jenny*, who has now left the building, collect her belongings unless she pays him $500.
He said the homeless people in his building must leave within 28 days and give him 28 days’ notice if they find somewhere else to go.
Cheung claimed the authorities told him this was the law.
Neil*, one of the homeless people, said “this is unacceptable”.
“We are scared of being homeless again and desperate for somewhere humane to live.”
Dunedin Bedding Bank’s Janine Walker, who helps the homeless, pledged to try to help them get a better place.
“These evictions are disgusting when the authorities were trying to sort out the conditions.
“Where are they going to go now?”
Jenny — the woman who is being refused her belongings — is a rape victim who has struggled with mental health challenges, addiction and has epilepsy.
Like the other people being evicted, she was pointed to the Carisbrook by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD)’s Work and Income office, after becoming homeless.
Jenny, who had just been released from a hospital mental health ward, said Work and Income gave her no other housing options.
It took her a month to find a better boarding house and move out of the Carisbrook.
However, when she contacted Cheung to arrange to collect her few belongings — including a mattress and bed base she had to provide herself — Cheung sent her a string of text messages saying she should have given him “28 days’ notice to move out”, adding “we are not free store room”.
Cheung said she “must pay before you can move”, demanding “total 500 dollar must pick up before 28 August”.
When the Otago Daily Times visited the building yesterday, there were eight government officials scrutinising its state.
Cheung was being quizzed by two Tenancy Services staff.
He admitted to the ODT his $500 demand — calling it a “storage fee”.
Cheung also admitted he had not issued any tenancy paperwork to Jenny and was unrepentant about his accommodation, which offered no beds, heaters, fridge, cooking or washing facilities.
When asked if standards would improve, he said “I can’t promise anything”.
When told by an official that he must get a cooker, he said he would “by Monday”, but then went on to later serve the eviction notices last night.
Jenny — who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder — said the Carisbrook had traumatised her further.
There were fights when she was there and she was intimidated by a man.
“It is awful. Cold, damp, dirty, gross, not fit for a dog.
“People shouldn’t be living like that.
“Nobody should be.
“It does not matter who you are or what you have done.”
“I kept trying to think ‘at least I have a roof over my head’, but after a few days I thought I would rather be on the street.”
She said she had struggled to eat, relying on the nearby fish and chip shop.
People in the Carisbrook have been using gas camp stoves in their rooms.
They also said Cheung had asked them not to use lights on the staircase and had, at one time, tried to ban heaters in rooms.
Neil, who had spent time in prison, said: “If you are a single person and not a family you don’t get help.
“You end up back at square one or worse.
“Nobody wants crime, but if people are homeless and put in unacceptable places like this, what is going to happen? Reoffending.
“The priority has to be people’s wellbeing.”
Cheung put his prices up to $280 a room this week.
He has also been charging $120 a week to a young homeless man who sleeps in a van behind the Carisbrook.
The ODT contacted MSD to raise the issue of people being pointed to substandard accommodation by a government agency.
MSD regional commissioner Steph Voight said MSD did “not refer people to specific accommodation.”
Jenny said in response: “That is not true”.
“It was the only option I was given by Work and Income.”
*Names changed to protect identities.