It takes a lot to get welfare worker John Ormsby down, but the day he was called in to help a man who had not showered for over two months came close to doing so.
Ormsby, a navigator (similar to a social worker) for Te Whānau O Waipareira who deliver services with the welfare agency Whānau Ora, was asked to assist in finding a new home for the man who, not only suffering a serious health issue, was bringing up two young sons (aged eight and six) on his own.
“Because of a health problem he could not get to the shower on the second floor of the apartment he was living in; he had not showered for over two months and had resorted to using a garden hose to wash himself.”
Ormsby says the man’s plight highlights the biggest issue the organisation faces every day – working with families who are homeless or living in poverty. It is, he agrees, “absolutely” a ticking time bomb.
His comments come as Whānau Ora is launching a new campaign – We Dream – to spotlight the challenges facing many families and whānau from issues like housing, poverty, education and employment. Since July 2015 Whanau Ora has worked with over 19,000 families.
The campaign has support from a number of prominent New Zealanders including All Blacks Patrick Tuipulotu and Israel Dagg (and his wife Daisy), Black Fern Ruby Tui, Silver Fern Phoenix Karaka, television host Stacey Morrison, viral social media stars The Cougar Boys and Hurricanes super rugby player Vince Aso.
As a navigator (or kaiarahi) Ormsby is one of a team of frontline staff who work with whānau to assist them to find solutions to their challenges by supporting problems them to make and self-manage their own decisions.
“Housing is definitely the biggest issue we deal with,” he says. “Every day we have someone coming in looking for help to find a place to live, I would say 70 per cent of those we see are for this reason. I’ve grown accustomed to it, but it is still heart-wrenching to see many of our people in trauma like that.
“Housing leads on to many other problems like domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse or marriage breakdowns. People get stressed living in squalid conditions and, unfortunately in many cases, the coping skills just aren’t there.
“They will medicate themselves to get through, they will try and drown their sorrows with drink or drugs,” he says. “But the interesting thing is when they find a house, the other issues they face sort themselves out – they can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ormsby says the case of the man forced to use a garden hose to wash is a graphic example of situations he deals with.
“Because of his health issue he stopped trying to climb the stairs to the bathroom,” he says. “He thought he might fall and injure his sons who were assisting him; he came to our attention after his doctor referred him seeking our support and advocacy to find a more suitable home (he eventually went to live with family).”
Whānau Ora’s work comes at a time when New Zealand’s homelessness crisis is said to be worse than previously thought.
YaleGlobal Online, a magazine published by Yale University in the US, said New Zealand last year had the worst per capita homelessness in the OECD with more than 40,000 living on the streets, in emergency housing or substandard shelters while last July Auckland Council put the city’s homeless at 23,409, 3000 more than in 2014.
Ormsby, who works with families in west Auckland, says he has many other cases where people are living in cars or sheds: “It hasn’t got me down and it is the little wins we have along the way that make my day.
“I like to involve the whole family including grandparents; everyone who wants to be included must be because I believe they are the experts. I’m only around 9 to 5, but the whānau are there 24/7 so if we can help them get the picture it makes a big difference.”
Whānau Ora chairperson Merepeka Raukawa-Tait says navigators assist whanau to identify goals, prepare and plan to improve their lives and, ultimately, find hope and “the space to dream”.
“Navigators are not encouraged to be directive around solutions, but to work together with whānau to create a road-map for their futures,” she says. “They also help whānau to realise their strengths and determine their own pathways to success, to help them become self-sufficient.
“Many of these people are Maori and Pasifika who are in poverty or in so much of a crisis they don’t have the tools to self-manage or make empowered decisions for themselves and their family.”
Raukawa-Tait says over 90 per cent of whānau they are working with have a household income below the minimum living wage.
Whānau Ora has produced a short film narrated by navigators which highlights their work and the challenges faced by many families.
Credit: NZ Herald article