In mid-2016 Te Puea Memorial Marae in Māngere was in the news when it opened its doors to the growing number of homeless people in Auckland. Three years later and the marae’s Manaaki Tāngata Programme is now working in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development: The marae has become a Transitional Housing Provider with some of its many voluntary kaimahi now paid – at least for some of the many hours that they work.

To begin with the marae took anyone who was homeless. This has since changed: now they only take whānau – people with children. Today most of the whānau coming to the marae have been living in motels.

Since 2016 over 350 people have stayed at the marae for an average 4.9 weeks before moving into a home. And they then have the skills to stay in their new home. It’s not just housing that the programme aims to solve, it wants to support whānau to become fully self-determining.

A research report 1 published in September 2018, described the extent to which the programme changes lives. In this report Jenny Nuku one of the hau kāinga and leaders of the programme describes the programme as an ‘awhi package’. Through manaakitanga and awhi people learn, not as one person said through being ‘told’ but being ‘guided’. Manaaki Tangata Manager, Hurimoana Dennis talks about the learning process. 

Learning process

“Ours is an indigenous model. People learn tikanga Māori and the principles of the marae. They come with all manner of issues apart from housing – mental health, suicide, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, child abuse…most can’t read or write. Most can’t cook, they are not bathing their children and getting them to school – and they all have trouble in engaging. Generally they are very immature parents, they are just kids, but they have kids themselves. Most of them have made many very poor decisions. It makes their homeless situation worse.

“By coming here they are going to learn a few things.

“When they first arrive they are exhausted. We offer them a safe place to put their head down and rest – something they haven’t had for a while. We look after the kids and we provide them with comfort, reassurance and safety. From then on we only get cooperation.

“We have a lot of community networks and government agencies to call on and we help the families to put together their own care plans. These are an agreement between them and us and it describes the issues that we need to focus on. Finding a house turns out to be the easy bit – very much so.

“From then on we work really hard with them. Their care plans include referral to all the agencies – teen parent programmes, domestic violence, literacy – whatever they need.

“Our information is far superior to the agencies. Whānau are prepared to listen, they trust us. I wake them up in the morning and we eat with them so they end up trusting you. For some it takes a bit longer, but you slowly break down the barriers.

“The issues they are facing are now becoming a lot more complicated. I’m not sure how they have survived for so long. Because we have HNZ and MSD on site you can do a lot of things very quickly. What takes an agency three weeks takes us three days.

“So what do they learn? They learn to cook, to bath their children and get them to school. They learn about marae protocols…. They learn to communicate. The learning just goes on and on. It is a natural part of the conversation here. We provide them with information about Māori lore and the laws of the land in one place. It’s more efficient and it gives them confidence. Their cultural social, and financial needs are being met.

“We use our hui whānau sessions to have some very important and realistic discussions.

“St Vincent de Paul comes in and does a budget for each whānau. That is part of the care plan.

“We also have an employment strand; we find them work. We’ve put a few into construction, some have become drivers – we have a driver licence training programme here. Not having a driving licence is a big issue for these families.

“When they leave they have trust and confidence in our relationship. We sometimes have challenging conversations with some of the parents. They get a good telling off, but they are still our friends. When they are housed we make announced and unannounced visits to their homes so we can see for ourselves whether their care plans are actually working.

“You can see that they change how they feel about themselves. They are more confident, more aware of what they can and can’t do, more aware of where they can go for help. The main thing is the relationship and the trust that goes with it. We are now getting invited to birthdays and weddings…

“Manaakitanga is about the ethics of care and reciprocity. It enhances mana on both sides of the relationship. The whānau that come here teach us as well, and when they leave the marae they are still connected.”

“Pip Lototau, is our co located MSD Service Centre manager at the local Māngere office. She is now based at the marae. Having Pip here just means we are adding real value real time to the needs and aspirations of the whānau. No longer do whānau have to make a trip to the office, often having to wait for a long time, before leaving frustrated. Pip now does home visits with our staff, which means she can deliver the MSD service from their couch. This is ground breaking and really extends the reach of MSD as an agency. As Pip is on the marae all the parents and their kids know and respect her.

“We are grateful that MSD support us in this way, otherwise we would not have a good law and lore working model on a marae. This should be a model for other marae wanting to help.

“We are very proud of what we have achieved so far and it is a blessing and honour to be able to give service to those in need. Paimaririe.”