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Friday, 19 April 2019 02:27 pm

Wellington’s charities and council struggle to manage homeless

acrosstioFOR most of us, a life on the street is something we cannot imagine having to deal with, but for hundreds of people in Wellington it is their reality.

Several organisations in the region help homeless people – the Soup Kitchen, Night Shelter, and Downtown Community Ministry.

Organisations spoken to by NewsWire say the New Zealand Government does not provide any direct funding towards homelessness, and Wellington City Council is the only local body in New Zealand with an initiative in place aimed reverse and the increasing numbers.

So how do these people without a permanent home, a steady income and warm meals every night get by?


NIGHT SHELTER: This is what a room at the over-night part of the night shelter looks like. Patrons get a bed with blankets, and a small bedside table for belongings. There is also showers and toilets on site for patrons to use.

Homelessness first hand

Wellington Night Shelter manager, Mike Leon, knows first-hand what living on the streets is like.

Working with homeless people prompted Mr Leon to go onto the streets to experience what life was like from the other side of the table.

“Going into a night shelter and showering in communal showers and seeing what that’s like in terms of your own dignity and safety gives you a better appreciation in terms of what life can be like,” he says.

Mr Leon says he would get around three or four hours of sleep a night because there was a constant presence and danger from people around him.

While he was on the streets, Mr Leon did not experience any physical or verbal abuse, because he knew how to keep himself safe.

“I didn’t look typically homeless, as do a large number of people. We see homelessness as more of a label, rather than a state of being.”

He compares it to being gay, people treat that as if it’s someone’s entire being and says it’s just a label.

“People will say ‘oh you’re gay’, as if it’s your entire being. It’s part of who you are, but it’s not who you are as a person, being homeless is just a state and time.”

During his time on the streets, Mr Leon ate with clients at the night shelter, and slept in the same area as them.

The hard part for him was coming to terms with the fact that he had the ability to move between the two worlds at any time.

The homeless people he met were locked into that cycle, sometimes for long periods of time.

But does this does not mean that there is no help at all out there for homeless people in Wellington?


What Wellington is doing about homelessness


SOUPED-UP: The Compassion Centre and Soup Kitchen on Tory Street in Wellington. The staff here feed up to 90 guests for dinner each night.

There are several organisations eager to rid the curbs of beggars and homeless.

Jessie Dennis, from the Compassion Centre and Soup Kitchen, says it is obvious that Wellington has an issue with homelessness.

“It’s pretty clear when you work in a service delivery organisation that a problem exists. We have up to 90 guests for dinner each night, a majority are regulars, obviously there’s a need.”

Not everyone who goes to the soup kitchen is homeless, but Miss Dennis says that you can see by the need for the service that a high level of poverty that exists.

A range of ages and ethnicities are regular guests at the compassion centre, however a disproportionately high number are of Maori and Pacific Island decent.

“A high number of our guests are men, and anywhere from middle-aged upwards are the most common ages here,” says Miss Dennis.

More men than women are reported to be sleeping rough in Wellington, but the number of women is increasing.

Drug and alcohol addiction, gambling addiction and mental health are all common issues experienced by homeless people.

Miss Dennis says tragedies, a history of abuse within their families, prison release and general poverty are all contributing factors in why some people end up on the streets.

“I think those can all be really interconnected, it’s difficult to say which are the most common, but people are finding it hard to get by, and get assistance.”
In some situations, there are people who choose to be homeless, and many of these people do so because they have not experienced any other positive example of living.

“People will be doing so without knowing all their options, and others will be doing so knowing it’s their only option,” says Miss Dennis.

She says what pushes people to homelessness is that they don’t have the support, whether it be family or community support.

“We try to provide community support, a place where people can feel like they belong.”

Staff at the Compassion centre work with the guests helping them with housing applications, budgeting, counselling, and WINZ appointments.

A report from the Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) shows from January 1 to June 30 year 580 individuals engaged with the organisation.

During this period, 298 people met the New Zealand definition of homelessness, which meant 51% of all the people DCM engaged with were homeless at sometime between January and June 2014.

Office coordinator at DCM, Matthew Mawkes, says he does not believe anyone “chooses” to be homeless.

He says the problems facing people who find themselves on the homelessness spectrum are diverse.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the work DCM does is to build relationships with people who have been burnt many times,” he says.

For example there is a group of mostly men at the DCM who have been in institutional care in the past, and they have developed trust issues.

For many of these organisations, money is an issue, they rely on donations, and places like the Night Shelter rely on the small fee they charge men to stay the night.


IN NEED: Night Shelter social worker Kathy Walton says the shelter would benefit from at least two more social workers to deal with homeless issues.

What more could be done?

In New Zealand there is no direct government funding for the homeless.

Kathy Walton, the sole social worker at the Wellington Night Shelter, works with 45 men and says it is “quite a stretch”.

“If we had two or three social workers, we would be able to make even more changes,” she says.

Miss Walton says the fact the government will not put money into homelessness would suggest that it’s not something taken seriously and recognised.

She mentions a few things that would help eliminate homeless from the streets and get them into houses.

“I think what we need to have is more social housing and making it more accessible. It needs to be more appropriate to the people’s needs who we’re working with here,” she says.

Ms Walton’s job is part-funded by Wellington City Council. (WCC)

Stephanie Lacey, team leader of community and city partnerships at the council says a lot of services in Wellington have been around for a long time, and a lot of them have church roots.

“That comes with its own challenges. Depending on the service, people may have to sign up to values based services that might not be appropriate anymore,” says Mrs Lacey.

Mrs Lacey says Wellington needs to work on giving a hand up instead of a hand out.

“People may be hungry so they go to the soup kitchen for food but that doesn’t help their homelessness, or they haven’t got a roof over their head so they go to the night shelter, but that doesn’t get them a house.”

She thinks it would be really helpful to have something, not necessarily money, but she says some kind of statutory framework at central government level would be helpful.

Mrs Lacey is part of a council run project called Te Mahana.

The purpose of Te Mahana is to guide a combined approach to making progress towards ending homelessness in Wellington by 2020.

Te Mahana uses three approaches – to stop homelessness happening, to deal with it quickly, and to prevent people from becoming homeless again.

By 2020, Te Mahana is hoping to have a range of affordable housing, increase the health and wellbeing of people who are homeless, and help guide them down the path to ending their homelessness.



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