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After-hours Mental Health Support Space Opens Arms, Ears, And Doors In Heart Of Kaitāia

A safe space in the heart of Kaitāia has opened its doors wide this week to welcome whānau requiring mental health support after traditional clinic hours.

The Rākau Ora drop-in pilot inaugurated its establishment in Kaitāia this Monday [Editors: March 25 2024] with a blessing and a goal to support whānau facing mental health difficulties, and redirect the emphasis from urgent, acute services in Te Hiku to address the growing community demands more effectively.

The hub is a part of the wider Taikorihi Locality initiative – one of several population health prototypes nationwide set up under the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Act 2022 to influence and inform the future investment of public health in New Zealand.

The Taikorihi Locality area encompasses the area bordering north Hokianga, Doubtless Bay and Cape Reinga, and Rākau Ora Managing Director Vanessa Kite says all Te Hiku whānau are welcome to the free, drop-in hub which will operate Monday to Friday from 5pm to 9pm and Saturdays from 12pm to 6pm for adults aged 18 and over.

As well as the after-hours drop-in hub, space will be open each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10am to 4pm for rangatahi aged 12 to 17 years old.

"When services close at 5pm, our office space offers a non-judgemental environment where individuals can take a break from their struggles, steering away from negative influences like trap houses, pubs or crime and violence. Drawing from previous experiences in similar spaces in Australia, we have subtly adjusted the principles to Te Ao Māori and better meet the needs of the Te Hiku community,” Vanessa says.

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The hub is comprised of a series of intimate spaces that allow for adults and taitamariki to spend some down time with a clinician or one of several volunteer kaimahi working with Rākau Ora. Whānau who drop in during the evening can expect a sympathetic ear or two, a cuppa and snack, and like-minded company. Puzzles, games, and colouring are also available, and if needed a referral to local services as they de-escalate at their pace and work through their immediate mental health needs with expert guidance.

Vanessa says that volunteer staff have rich, lived experience; they are also currently engaged in Level 3 and 4 Mental Health and Addiction Support training with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, so the initiative is also helping to build capacity in Te Hiku in mental health support services from the grassroots up.

Vanessa says one benefit of an after-hours hub is that it can act as a conduit between whānau and other organisations to ensure that they receive ongoing help following short-term crises.

“The idea behind the after-hours and rangatahi space is simple but addresses a diverse range of needs. While providing immediate resources unique to their needs, our commitment extends to follow-up to ensure our whānau do not ‘fall in the gaps.’ While not assuming direct case management responsibilities, we are ensuring a seamless experience,” she says.

Kaitāia Hospital Operational Manager Neta Smith says the need for an after-hours mental support services in Te Hiku is “huge.”

She says there are currently 40 Te Whatu Ora staff working across the mental health and support services for adults, rangatahi, Māmā and their pēpi in the traditional hours of Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm. Demand for support at times outside of traditional clinic hours has resulted in the hospital responding to whānau needs with innovative solutions.

For example, Neta says the hospital can see up to 150 ‘watchers’ in any given year, or people who require immediate, 24/7 medical assistance and surveillance. In response, the hospital has created an overnight safe space that caters for people of all ages and their whānau who are needing to come off substance abuse, de-escalate and be safe from harming themselves and others.

“We’ve got an overnight room that we’ve just put into the ward, where we can admit people ‘on watch.’ They will be admitted to the ward where we have 20 funded beds, so there is always a bed available,” Neta says.

She adds there is also a six-bed subacute unit available that accommodates unwell whānau aged 18 years and over who are either in the community or transferring back from Whangārei.

She adds the after-hours space now offered by Rākau Ora will be a welcome addition to mental support services across Te Hiku.

Taikorihi Programme Manager JJ Ripikoi says that oranga hinengaro is a significant kaupapa for whānau living in Te Hiku and the Taikorihi prototype is an opportunity for ensuring that whānau have a range of different supports available.

He adds says that data and insights gathered from the pilot and 12 other initiatives rolling out across Te Hiku will be collated and included in future recommendations to be made to Te Whatu Ora, Te Aka Whai Ora, and other Crown agencies.

“We understand the pressures that come with oranga hinengaro on both the person and their whānau. We will continue our mahi to direct additional funding and resources into Te Hiku to support kaupapa similar to the Rākau Ora after-hours drop-in,” he says.

Rākau Ora is located in the arcade at Hofsted Arcade, 1/90 Commerce Street, Kaitāia. For more information, visit

For more information on Taikorihi and the Pae Ora health reforms taking place in Te Hiku, visit

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