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A home is the best medicine – reflections on 2019

18 December 2019

As we come to the end of the year, we look back at the highlights and what has been achieved for the people we are here to serve. This year Housing First has continued to change communities for the better in Hamilton and Tauranga because we believe everyone must have a home to live in and everyone has the right to live their best life.

In Hamilton, where we began in 2014, The People’s Project has worked with more than 1,000 people. In 2019, our team of 13 supported 188 single men, women and couples to achieve 168 housing outcomes. Every month, on average, 40 new or returning clients registered for support.

In Tauranga, where we began in 2018, The People’s Project has triaged and spoken with more than 342 people. By December this year, our team of seven had supported 54 single men, women and couples to achieve 71 housing outcomes.

The People’s Project doesn’t have a growth strategy – we’d be happy to close our doors tomorrow if there wasn’t any homelessness in Aotearoa. However, there has been no decline in the need for our services in 2019, despite our Hamilton team doubling in size.

We believe there is no ‘Housing First’ without housing, and in Tauranga our biggest challenge is finding housing.  The city has a serious lack of public (state) housing and affordable private rental properties. 2019 was a really tough year for anyone looking to rent in Tauranga, regardless of their background and situation, and particularly so for people who are more vulnerable, such as those experiencing unsheltered homelessness.  All the people we are working with in Tauranga would move into a place of their own tomorrow, if the appropriate, affordable housing was available for them. We spoke to Sunlive about this issue in October.

In 2019, household set-ups remained, by far, the best and most rewarding part of our work. People are overwhelmed walking into their new homes, which have been totally furnished before they arrive. The People’s Project provides clients, who often have few or no belongings coupled with high debt, with a setup which may include brand new kitchenware, linen, crockery, a bed, a couch, a table and chairs, and a chest of drawers. This year we received a particularly heartwarming letter from Mohi about moving into his home.

This year we continued to demonstrate the power of collaboration across services in Hamilton and Tauranga to put the heart back into communities and inspire people to care. This included initiatives such as Connections Week in Hamilton, where we partnered with City Safe, Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry of Social Development to undertake the city’s first by-name count of unsheltered homelessness. In Tauranga, we started working with community housing provider LinkPeople who will set up a service in 2020 to help us help landlords find great tenants and peace of mind when it comes to looking after their investments.

In 2019, we continued to add to the body of evidence about homelessness in New Zealand. Our research was included in the Government’s first Wellbeing Budget and in the Health and Disability Review’s Interim Report. We have become the holders of some of the most nationally important information on one of the most vulnerable groups of people in New Zealand. In 2020, we plan to share this research and its findings more widely, as the phase two results become available in the middle of the year.

We know Housing First changes communities for the better. We continue to champion the call for common consents for the people we work with, because they expect that all services that support them talk to each other. We are working on championing the need for a common assessment tool among social services in New Zealand, so people no longer have to tell their story over and over and over again.

At the very gritty end of our work, we have literally saved people’s lives. During Connections Week in the middle of winter, we found a seriously ill gentleman living in his car in Hamilton, who was immediately admitted to hospital and then supported into housing by our team. Sadly, he was so gravely ill he passed away after a few months. We are often reminded of the fact that the people we work with are very unwell, with four more clients passing away this year due to chronic illness; we are thankful they all were no longer homeless at the time of their passing.

We’ve always said it takes a community to end homelessness. The research we are undertaking with our partners is starting to show that through Housing First, we are making a significant difference in people’s lives – one week, one month, one year and beyond – housing is a positive mental health, justice and social development intervention.  We couldn’t do this work without all of our governance group partners and the many other organisations who join us in supporting some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

We know there is still so much more that needs to be done, in particular addressing the drivers of homelessness in our communities such as poverty and domestic violence, so that we prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place. We absolutely believe this is possible, and in 2020 we will continue doing what matters – housing and supporting people.

For Housing First providers, the definition of ending homelessness means that it becomes rare, brief and non-recurring. We recently saw an extension of this definition by an American organisation called Community Solutions which we felt clarified this even further: our work won’t be done until homelessness is rare overall, brief when it occurs, and never a way of life.

With just a week to go until Christmas, we are tremendously privileged to have supported more than 242 people this year; helping them find and furnish safe and stable homes and walking alongside them to help maintain their tenancies with wrap around support for as long as it is needed.

From everyone at The People’s Project in Hamilton and Tauranga, thank you for your ongoing support. We wish you a happy summer holiday, a very Meri Kerihimete and look forward to working with you again in 2020.