20 Jun 2016

16yo with cancer grateful for new home

6:31 pm on 20 June 2016

A family of six - one with cancer - is the latest to be found a home after arriving at Te Puea Marae, but its chairman says the marae's doors can't stay open to the homeless forever.

B, who uses just an initial to protect her identity, is 16, suffering from cancer and was homeless until the marae in Mangere helped her and her family find accommodation.

This morning, she stood on the atea (courtyard) of Te Puea Marae, where she expressed her family's gratitude.

"Thank you for your love and support, and everyone at Te Puea Marae too. They've been a great help, and I'm thankful for that."

Checkpoint's John Campbell sits down with B for a one-on-one interview:

The family came to Te Puea last week after their living situation became too stressful. They had been living with relatives but 15 people in one house was just too much, and B's father reached out to the marae.

B told Checkpoint with John Campbell life had been challenging since her diagnosis.

"When I found out I was diagnosed with cancer, from then everything just went hard, and it was stressful on my Dad.

"We stayed at Aunty's but it was overcrowded, then he found out about Te Puea Marae, and we came here.

"They've been so welcoming and kind since the day we got here, and I'm thankful for that."

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said staff carried out a housing assessment on the family last week, when they presented to the marae. They were found to be of highest priority, she said.

Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis said the marae had been the last resort for the family.

B's father thought the marae only catered for Māori so was hesitant to ask for help, as the family is Samoan, Mr Dennis said.

A young woman suffering from cancer known as"B" at Te Puea Marae

B is 16 years old, has cancer and has been searching for accommodation with her family. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

However, volunteers at the marae had been able to help the family secure a new home.

"For a dad and his five kids to come here to put his pride in his pocket and come and ask for our help - that's respect that he has from us, and the best thing we can do is make sure that they transition into a warm house," Mr Dennis said.

"There's a lot of satisfaction, there's a lot of humility there too to see that we're helping a really nice Samoan family on their way and onto the next stage of their lives. That has to be a plus. They're never going to forget the name Te Puea, that's for sure."

Marae has helped 60 families find housing

The family's case is one of many where volunteers at the marae, in collaboration with staff from Work and Income New Zealand, have been able to find new homes for those seeking help.

The marae opened its doors to the homeless nearly a month ago, and planned to keep the doors open throughout winter. People arrived with nothing but they left fed, with clothes, some with a job and, most importantly, with a home, Mr Dennis said.

Hurimoana Dennis and B

Hurimoana Dennis with B at today's news conference at Te Puea Marae in Mangere. Photo: RNZ/ Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Mr Dennis put the success of the marae's Manaaki Tangata programme down to its set-up.

The back of the marae has been reworked to accommodate families and offices have been set up to assist them. It's a "one-stop shop" where, for the past 10 days, Work and Income staff have been on-site working with families and the volunteers advocating for them.

Mr Dennis said the families, volunteers and Work and Income staff were within sight of each other - "they eat together, they talk together and it means they don't have to go off and make a phone call to ask more questions and everything is on tap, everything is here".

The strategy was simple, but it worked, he said.

"WINZ is here, we have access to education, probation, justice, health and housing and also links into Whanau Ora too."

While the marae would continue to support those without homes over the winter period, Mr Dennis said volunteers couldn't keep working forever, and there would be a time when the marae would have to stop.

"You're dead right, we've been quite clear from the start we're talking the winter period ... Late July, early August, there'll be a transition period for us."

The government and other agencies would then have to step up, he said.

"It's not going away just because we've finished."

The Wharenui at Te Puea Marae in Manger

The marae said it would have to wind down its operations in "late July, early August". Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

There were many reasons why people become homeless, but there were recurring themes the marae crew kept hearing.

"Overcrowding, eviction, living below the poverty line, bureaucracy and poor decision-making seem to pop their heads up all the time.

"If somebody said to us 'listen, this Manaaki Tangata model would fit with us', for sure we'd support it."

The long-term focus should not just be on the homeless but also the 2000 to 3000 people on Housing New Zealand's waiting list for social housing, Mr Dennis said.

They would be tomorrow's problem if their needs weren't addressed, he said.

Te Puea Marae's Manaaki Tangata programme has carried out 68 needs assessments, and has placed 60 families in temporary housing or accommodation with full wrap-around services since it began almost one month ago.

There are 33 whānau members living on the marae at the moment, and Māori wardens continue to do night drops of food and other necessities to families sleeping in their cars in surrounding suburbs in south Auckland.

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