Solutions to Homelessness~Symposium 28 August

Helen Leahy, Pouarahi, was a keynote speaker at the recent Symposium:  Since the 2010 Christchurch and 2016 Kaikōura Earthquakes Helen reflected on the role Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu played alongside Iwi in the Earthquake recovery programme and response to homelessness and what are some of the lessons learnt from the engagements in this field.

”What all our research and work with whānau is telling us is that while some of the physical reminders of recovery are not as pronounced, the importance of whānau working together to achieve resilience and improve wellbeing remains a universal priority.  Many Whānau Ora initiatives in Ōtautahi also contributed to the wellbeing of whānau in crisis.” 

”What we know, through our work with Navigators is that whānau Māori are disproportionately and more likely to report on the lower scales regarding their wellbeing.   Our approach has been to coordinate collaborative working relationships with stakeholders; supporting whānau to access earthquake insurance and resolve earthquake-related issues.”

Read Helen’s speech here:

SOLUTIONS TO Homelessness Symposium

In one of the many literary contributions made by Tahu Pōtiki he shared stories of the hunga wairua, the places where the wind calls your name. 

He was a story-teller, a historian, a writer of narratives, someone who has shaped and sharpened our knowledge; who challenged us to know more, to do better for the generations who will follow.  

He reminded us that the most engaging Treaty stories are not told enough, they are not told well and most are still largely unknown.   He asked us to share our truths, he always left us with more questions than answers.

In an article in the Otago Daily Times a couple of years ago, he posed the question:

How do you bring guests on to the marae?  How do you make sure you feed them properly?   How do you bury your dead?   These are the cultural cornerstones that have never been lost.   If your cultural confidence exists in any way, that is the sort of place it should manifest itself”.

And so today, as we have shared a day of solutions and strategies around homelessness –I am sure that Tahu would be wanting us to make manifest our cultural realities; to search out bold solutions; to leave no brick unwashed, no stone unturned.

My role in closing out our symposium today, is to share some thoughts with you about ways of moving from homelessness to hope; to shift the dial; to change the narrative.

And I want to celebrate and congratulate the courage, the compassion and the commitment of those brave groups gathered here today – who collectively are turning the tide.

I acknowledge Ngāi Tahu; Minister Faafoi and the representative for Te Tai Tonga; the Christchurch Homeless Collective; local government; our communities, Te Puni Kokiri –and most of all NZ Coalition to. End Homelessness who have been challenging us to subscribe to the moemoeā, an Aotearoa without homelessness.

Over the last decade, this Coalition – encouraged and inspired by the vision of Iris Pahau and those who have been walking this talk before us – have shared a simple wish: that every person has the right to an adequate standard of living and housing to ensure their health and the health of their family.

Your work is vital in reminding us what we should be fighting for as a nation; it is a matter of human rights; it is about living Te Tiriti o Waitangi in action; it is about a future built from and on hope.

I want to start by casting back over 100 years to stories passed down to me by my grandparents and those before them.  This is our whānau home, in Lower Moutere Valley, which still stands today – although not in our ownership.  #lifegoals.

This was the home that my grandmother was raised, along with her twelve sisters and one brother.   It was usual to have plenty of people to stay.  The table was always full of fruit and vegetables; they made their own butter; and there was always plenty of fish to cook up to feed a crowd.

My Nanny Marcelle remembers it was a time of great giving.   Swaggers walked the roads looking for work.   They were given a place to sleep in the barn; a hearty breakfast and then a sugar bag of food to send them on their way.   The children used to go searching through the gorse to share a basket of food with those who lived very isolated lives.

Manaakitanga; whakawhanaungatanga; hospitality; generosity of spirit.

One hundred years later, our nephew invited us to his pass-out parade at Burnham Camp where we watched with pride his military execution of the physical routines; his pride and passion with the taiaha; his poise and his presence.

It seemed a million miles away from his life on the streets which he would turn to only a few months later.

For our young man– circumstances changed for him, it wasn’t that he didn’t have options; for him those options weren’t immediately obvious.

I wanted to share this brief journey in our family not as an explanation but more as a case of enquiry as to how any of us can seek to understand ways to move towards solutions.   To start this journey, we must do it together – to ask ourselves – when did we stop caring for those who are vulnerable and lonely?  How can a young man be so confident and assured in one breath and then in the next conclude that his only refuge is the street.

Olivia talked about homelessness as the invisible crisis: it is up to all of us to bring visibility to this issue.

If as a nation, as communities, we always shared what we had with each other; took the time out to feed and house those who were wandering or alone, when did that stop?

I think of the definition Statistics New Zealand provides of homelessness.

"Living situations where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing: are without shelter, in temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household or living in uninhabitable housing."

For some, homelessness means sleeping rough on the street or living in cars. For others, it could involve couch-surfing or house-jumping with friends or acquaintances.

We know that living on the street is dangerous. Homeless people are abused and attacked, discriminated against and alienated. They are often sleep-deprived, under-nourished and unwell. It’s cold, dirty and humiliating living on the street. Many are there because they simply cannot see another way.

And yet we have all let it happen on our watch.   As John Pritchard said, “everyone has a role”.

Our focus today is an important step forward in moving from homelessness to hope.

Housing is crucial to the wellbeing of our whānau at any time.

But in the aftermath of the 2010, 2011 and 2016 earthquakes the need for accommodation has stretched to a limit the need for emergency accommodation, and in particular the need for supported accommodation and sustained accommodation.

In understanding how homelessness impacts on our whānau across Te Waipounamu I have called on our Whānau Ora Navigators to understand better the nature of change, of resilience, of crisis and response.

The Navigators are not there specifically to focus on housing.   But when we asked our whānau what’s most important to their wellbeing they have told us the most important thing is good housing- and indeed the centrality of housing to wellbeing.

During the last financial year

  • 219 whānau set themselves a goal of finding a private sector house for their whānau,

  • a further 177 set themselves a goal of finding a state/council house.

  • Almost 400 whānau, that represents 12% of all the whānau we work with.

  • Fifty percent of those whānau have found the accommodation they’re looking for, and a further 26% have made excellent progress.

The pathway for helping secure private accommodation generally includes

  • helping whānau access support (including financial and social support),

  • identifying financially viable options,

  • funding suitable temporary accommodation,

  • helping whānau get references  and

  • helping secure a bond.

Navigators will help to identify options,

  • help whānau to get the appropriate documentation and fill out the forms,

  • help them find appropriate temporary accommodation,

  • work with whānau around eligibility and

  • continue to work with them while they are on the waiting list.

But I think it’s important to remember it’s not just about the house.

Navigators have to be empathetic towards the real-life situation of the homeless.   They need to be committed to strengths based and recovery approaches.

I want to focus on one particular navigator who has been working here in Christchurch as a case in point; Maree Hansen from Purapura Whetu.

The Tū Pono connect role has been an important response to working in the housing space – and in particular the interaction with other key areas such as suicide, violence and bullying.   To get some sense of the scale: in the last three months, 153 contacts which were made up of:

  • 90 housing queries

  • 23 domestic violence queries

  • ·20 bullying cases

  • 20 suicidal ideation cases.

The role of TŪ Pono connect is to work with other agencies to support whānau into homes.   However their work is constantly compounded by the fact that:

  • Whānau are discriminated against because of ethnicity, financial situations, gender, whānau dynamics

  • There is conflicting information given regarding processes for housing options (in one situation, a person with whānau in Christchurch – living on the streets here – was offered a house in Invercargill.   His housing situation was resolved, but all his social and cultural connections were immediately placed at risk).

  • If a whānau is offered a home and declines it for good reasons but without support letters, they don’t understand consequences – being stood down for 13 weeks or being removed from housing list

  • Need emergency housing that is specifically alcohol and drug especially for whānau and ex rehab clients.

Whānau identified some of the key challenges as feeling stuck, not wanting to deal with too many agencies or too many people.  Whānau waiting too long to have their issues heard and not feeling able to question professionals in case they are labelled difficult to deal with.

But I called this talk from homelessness to hope, and I do want to end with that note.

Before coming to this symposium today, I looked through the last quarter reports from our Navigators and I want to share some of the comments from whānau across Te Waipounamu, to ensure their voices are the ones that continue to inspire us in our pursuit of that basic goal that every person has the right to an adequate standard of living and housing to ensure their health and the health of their family.

“The navigator helped me in a tough time and stood by me. Helped me find a new home and get out of my circumstances”.

“my goals were to get off WINZ, get my kids back, get a house, plant a garden learn how to eel, set nets and dive properly and safely. I achieved all of them. (Without her) I would’ve probably been in jail, Hillmorton or dead”.

“I have gained more confidence and now in the process of buying my own house”.

“We are a family of 5 with 3 small children. We have plans to save a decent amount towards a deposit for our house, to stay close and supportive of each other and to pay off our loan. Now we have a new whare and my partner is clean we are more able to focus on long term goals”.

“I would like to find a house to call home for myself and my children. I would like to upskill and get a full time job”

The important point in these comments is not that the solutions have necessarily all been achieved – but that there is a solution in sight.

Whakamana Tangata put the case to the state: let us place faith and trust in Māori solutions.

And so the hope that I want us to return to in this room is to think of those champions of courage; that ambassadors of hope in this room and beyond who every day do to the do.  Brenda Lowe-Johnson – who for decades has been extending the hand of manaaki; to wrap loving arms of support around those who need it most.   Iris Pahau and the Coalition to end homelessness; Keri and the team from Te Puni Kokiri who help out with breakfast on a Tuesday morning; the team from Help for the homeless; the people here today.


Knowing who to ask for help is crucial when helping  whānau to meet their housing goals.

Navigators provide practical help, such as help getting documentation and references, Internet access to help view potential options online, and providing the all important transport – by driving whānau around to look at potential options.

They help whānau with budgeting and savings towards accommodation, as well as assessing any relevant entitlements form places like Work and Income.

They also work on the preventative edge to advocate for whānau, and stop them from losing accommodation.

They help whānau wha are in very dark places to get well and back in the space where they can dream of home ownership.

They will rock up with a trailer, to physically help whānau move.

They help whānau to maintain healthy houses, by supporting them to do repairs, helping them clean, and helping them plant gardens.

They remind us of what we used to be.

This last story is of a proud man of Te Arawa – who has given permission for his photo and his story to be shared with you all.

When the whānau moved up North, he couldn’t afford to rent on his own, and so he was offered a garage in Aranui to move into.   It was cold, it was dark, it was empty.


He was very shy and humble and didn’t want to make a fuss.


Our Navigator became his agent for house – which took the stress of him having to deal with the multitude of agencies.  

His rating was A15; he had health conditions from polio as a child, and living with diabetes.

Our Navigator starts looked at all the options: private rentals, Methodist Mission – Te Whare Tiaki, flatting, boarding.

She kept phoning Housing New Zealand.  No movement.

So our navigator took photos of the garage, fronted up to Housing New Zealand and asked to talk to the manager.   Despite initial reluctance from the staff, the meeting eventually took place.

Two days later he was offered a two bedroom almost new unit.  Our Navigator worked with him to sign up with the property manager and sort a bond through Work and Home.

Brenda has spoken to us today about the need for the nation to rise up; to let the laser beam shine with the message from the street.   Jane encouraged us to know : now is the time.

In sharing this story our Navigator finished with these words:

“The work is hard but important.   The outcome is what whānau deserve: respect and dignity – mana motuhake”.




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