Auckland City Mission: 'This place has a lot of memories'

8:46 pm on 21 September 2018

The teal green facade with its burgundy sign and queues of people lining up for food and support is a familiar sight in central Auckland.

Auckland City Mission

Auckland City Mission Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

For many, the Auckland City Mission is home.

But now, it is farewelling its central-city building for two years while it undergoes a major development.

From tomorrow, the it will be based on Union Street while a new multi-purpose building goes up at the Hobson Street site.

"This place has a lot of memories," Vernon, who has been visiting the City Mission for nearly two decades, said.

He first found out about it after he and his partner ran out of food. A friend directed him to the Mission and he was given a food parcel.

After periods of homelessness, Vernon now lives in state housing nearby. But he keeps returning for a one reason: The people.

"I love and adore people - even the funny-looking ones," he said with a grin.

"At first, I came back for myself, but after a while, I realised I come back for the people."

He was sad to say goodbye to the old building but said the development needed to happen.

"When you close one chapter, you open up another."

He said having new units for the homeless to call home is the right move and he's excited for the extended health services.

The former Prince of Wales Pub has housed the Auckland City Mission for 38 years, but the small, ageing building is no longer considered fit for purpose.

For the next two years it will take up temporary residence at 23 Union Street - a few blocks around the corner.

Social services manager Helen Robinson has mixed emotions about moving from the old site.

"There is a deep sense that for some people, Hobson Street is home, and so there is a sadness and anxiety about leaving home."

But there is optimism too.

"The other night someone said to me, as I saw the boxes leaving Hobson street, 'Helen, don't be sad, it's just going to be better when we go to Union Street and it's just going to get better from there'."

The new building will stand beside its present site, which has heritage status, and will include 80 high density apartments, a comprehensive medical service and the city's largest detox unit.

Forty units will be for the chronically homeless and the rest for those on the social housing waitlist.

It's the first New Zealand example of a Common Ground model - a form of supported living for those with high complex needs, Ms Robinson said.

"Critical to this model is what we call a concierge service."

That means an all-hours social worker on site and security.

Those with complex needs have the option of living in the unit for life.

City Missioner Chris Farrelly said the wooden building had ecological features, gardens, and looks to Te ao Māori principles of manaakitanga and kāwanatanga to create a welcoming environment.

"We asked our architects: 'Don't build us a commercial building, build us a home.' "

It's a beautiful looking building, with a Wharenui top, he said.

It will also retain its original services such as a food bank, spaces for Work and Income assessments, onsite meals and activity spaces.

The new site will add extra opportunities for social enterprise and skill development.

The homeless community has been instrumental in developing the plans.

At first they asked for a place to shower and keep their belongings, Mr Farrelly said.

That developed to wanting a space to make art and develop their skills.

"And then of course, the big thing, 'Can you give us a home?',"

The project will cost $90 million: The government is chipping in $34m, with $10m from Foundation North and $27m in donations.

Auckland City Mission is fundraising to get the remaining $18m.

Tomorrow it will hold a breakfast and blessing at its new site.