We do not know how many homeless there are, given people don’t always report these circumstances. We have Māori living under bridges, living in unsuitable or overcrowded homes, in garages or staying with friends or family.
Research on homelessness suggests that poverty is a major trigger for homelessness, along with addiction, physical disability, a mental health condition, and relationship breakdown. Māori have the added disadvantage when homeless of being disconnected from their culture, spirituality and whānau. As described by a homeless person:
“I want to get a place to live, I want to know what is available to me to take advantage of …. I think that would be helpful because I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere by being here, you know I just feel like I’m just stuck here, and I can’t move to the next level because I haven’t got the ability to save money at the moment, and it’s really hard to find a place to live… I’d like a bit more focus on helping me to the next level.”
The work I and others do at the marae supports Māori to access services they need. This is under the Whānau Ora model driven by Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency.
I and others are employed as a Kaiārahi supporting whānau to identify their dreams for the future and then navigating them to the services and activities that will deliver real outcomes for them in these goals.
Referrals come into our service through agencies such as Police, Child Youth and Family, community services, from whānau themselves and other Māori agencies. We then meet with whānau and explore the reason they have sought help and their hopes for the relationship with us as Kaiārahi. The first session is always about our connections and developing trust between ourselves, gaining consent and addressing the urgent needs if necessary. The second and several following visits are exploring the dreams and hopes of the whānau and identifying together the goals we are working on and the activities that will help us to get to those goals.
Over this year we have seen more and more whānau come to us looking for help to find homes for themselves and their whānau. I would like to share three of these journeys with you. The journeys of these whānau are slightly changed so no recognition of them can occur.
Three faces of homelessness that we have successfully navigated for have been:
The Māori mother of four children under five on a solo parent benefit. She wanted to start a better life for herself so moved to be closer to her family. Her goal was to find a home for herself and her children. She spent four months living with her sister. Her sister and partner lived in the garage while their whānau lived in the house. This was alright in summer but as winter drew on they had to find space in the house to sleep. The challenges of finding a home were:
being told to not even try to apply for state housing because of the local shortage
being on a benefit had some landlords reluctant to consider her a valid tenant
she was considered young, in her twenties and
having four young children also seemed to be a barrier.
This navigation required planning where and what type of home to look at then constantly looking for rentals advertised, visiting and applying for possible homes. This took regular consistent ongoing support for three months from the whānau and me eventually resulting in a three bedroomed rental.
A Māori man with a significant disability requiring him to be in an electric wheelchair had been evicted from a state home because of addictions and the company using his home. He moved into a local hotel and then a hostel but his addictions and the behaviour of the company living in these places did not improve, impacting on his behaviour. He was also asked to leave in one place because they did not have suitable shower facilities. On one occasion between accommodations, he spent two night sleeping rough. His goal was to live in a wheelchair friendly home with a wheelchair enabled wet shower and toilet. The barriers to finding a home were:
His addictions to alcohol and marijuana
His vulnerability to others as he tried so hard to fit in he ended up being involved in activities he would not normally engage in
His need for a wheelchair adapted home
A landlord that could be supportive and offer a home for life if he respected their property
His age being under 30
His poor record with state housing
His ongoing police record for stealing (food and alcohol).
Waiting for a home to become available led to an 8-week placement in a motel with a resulting debt to Work and Income NZ of $8000.
The navigation required urgent work finding temporary accommodation that could take a wheelchair – the motel and then finding a placement that could then become a home for the rest of his life. There were support services to engage with him to ensure he could stay successfully in this home such as enrolling him in a Doctors practice, help him find work, connecting him to the local community and groups offered within it.
A Kuia in her seventies, with respiratory disease, heart failure, and living in a garage was hospitalised three times and discharged back to the garage and sons lounge. Her son and his wife have addictions. Her daughter and other son decided to care for their mum and to look for a home together. Their goal was to find a suitable healthy home for them all. The barriers to housing for them were:
The Kaiārahi role supported the whānau to receive the information from the hospital they required on how to support the management of their mother’s health better. This included the ongoing support of an indigenous COPD and Kaumatua service from the marae. There was also assistance in looking for and finally the whānau finding a three bed-roomed property. Advocacy for the finances for the bond and rent required to secure the home was also one of the activities required to support the outcome of living in their own home.
The Kaiārahi role gives a unique service to whānau using Māori cultural values such as manaakitanga, whakawhanaungatanga, wairuatanga and rangatiratanga. These are the keystones to successful outcomes for whānau. Having Tākiri Mai Te Ata Whānau Ora Collective in a marae with all the other cultural benefits and services attached also supports the navigation for whānau when they connect to us they connect to multiple services and the barriers to connection are lowered. It is in this connection they also reconnect to a part of who they are as Māori.
Ending homelessness in Aotearoa New Zealand; and in creating a better New Zealand for every citizen is going to take many people, families and communities working together.
Kia mau ki te iti whenua hei oranga mo koutou e ki ana te kupu whakarite ko te rangi tona wahi tapu ko te whenua tona turanga waewae.” Hold on to even a modest piece of land for your sustenance in keeping with the saying, heaven is his kingdom, earth is his footstool.
By Jane Hopkirk (Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Wairarapa), Kaiārahi – Tākiri Mai Te Ata Whānau Ora Collective.
Groot, S., & Hodgetts, D. (2011). Scoping Study for the Establishment of the Tauranga Night Shelter. Tauranga, New Zealand: Tauranga Moana Nightshelter Trust.
Hopkirk, J. (2012). Report to the Board on the Wellington Night Shelter. Wellington, New Zealand: Wellington Night Shelter Trust.
Multi-Agency Steering Group. (2012). Te Mahana: a draft strategy to end homelessness in Wellington by 2020. Wellington: Wellington City Council.
Smith, R. (2014). Wairarapa Māori values in a kaupapa context. Masterton, New Zealand: Ruamāhanga Whaitua Committee