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Rahui Katene: Launch of Homelessness Paper

New Zealand Coalition to End Homelessness in conjunction with Christchurch City Council


Hui National Forum Tuesday 24 March 2009; 10am

Grand Chancellor Hotel; Christchurch


Rahui Katene, MP for Te Tai Tonga


Launch of Homelessness Paper

I was recently reading about Kia Riwai, an early welfare officer in the Department of Maori Affairs, here in Christchurch in the 1950s.  Her focus was the health and welfare of mothers and families, and her territory the whole South Island.

Kia, of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mutunga descent, was one of ten children raised by her mother, after her father died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.  She endured the depression years and a tuberculosis diagnosis; and went on to live a life of dedicated service to the people.

Kia set up the Otautahi Maori concert party to raise money for the War effort; she served in Italy and for her efforts in the War was awarded the British Empire Medal.  On her return she set up branches of the Maori Women’s Welfare League in Tuahiwi, in Rapaki and Taumutu; she set up culture groups throughout the South Island; and she took a particular interest in the trade training scheme established by the Department.   In fact the community hall at Rehua Marae is named in her honour – Te Kiato Riwai

I wanted to refer to Kia this morning, because sometimes I think it is important to remember where we have come from, in order to plan for our days ahead.

It is important to remember the challenges that those before us endured.   Our history leads us forward; it gives us the confidence to know we have accepted challenges before and we can build on our past to drive our future.

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That confidence that we can make a difference is needed now, in great abundance.

If I was to face the challenge of homelessness just in my electorate alone, it would appear fairly grim. 

In the last six months throughout Te Tai Tonga; we have seen headlines such as:

‘Homeless teens out on streets’ : Timaru Herald;
‘Homeless women a critical issue’ : Otago Daily Times;
‘Emergency housing plan for at-risk youth’: The Press.
In Dunedin the Salvation Army has said the services are seeing more women and children who are homeless while Te Whare Pounamu, the Women’s Refuge there, is seeing at least one woman a month deemed to be homeless.

Of course this isn’t just a Te Tai Tonga phenomenon.

An article a fortnight ago in the Gisborne Herald was entitled, ‘Homelessness now a reality’;  the Emergency Housing Trust in Rotorua is desperately seeking help to build a homeless shelter while the latest count in Auckland streets found 91 people sleeping rough within three kilometres of the Sky Tower.

So what would Kia Riwai do?

How do we learn from our past to make the steps to end homelessness?

How can we make a difference?  What support can we provide to vulnerable young people?  What are the specific housing needs for people with mental illness; for people with high and complex needs?

What are the strategies Maori providers have used that work? How do we know that we are preventing youth homelessness?

I’m not going to say we have all the answers, but today is at least about doing what we can to create solutions.

Today is a day that Kia Riwai would be proud of.

One of the headlines I didn’t mention was one from the Downtown Community Ministries last week.

That one read, “World Expert on Homelessness speaking in Wellington”.

We are honoured indeed that at today’s meeting we are in the company of a person who was nominated for one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2007.   Philip Mangano has engaged at every level of government and the private sector to end homelessness – and I am sure his example will inspire us all.

And if that’s not exciting enough we have a presentation on Street Football Aotearoa and the road to the Football World Cup!

There are presentations from researchers; from Women’s Refuge; from the Tenants Protection Association; from Community Housing and from a wide range of people from the flaxroots – who are working with homeless people.

There’s probably one word that sums up homeless lives; that sums up the message of today – and that’s resilience.

I hear that in Auckland, 1000 organisations are going to be invited to participate in a research project to benchmark their resilience  in terms of how they will survive in times of crisis. 

The assessment of their resilience will be applied to recovery from risks such as pandemic influenza; a volcanic eruption; severe weather or loss of power.

What I think today is all about, is debating and describing the varying levels of resilience expressed by those people sleeping rough, day in, day out.  

We know that many of these people are of Maori and Pasifika descent, and our programme recognises that in the workshops.

Today is also about those living in temporary shelters or those in insecure or unsuitable housing.  There are people living in boarding hostels and backpackers; those staying with friends or family in unfit or overcrowded housing.

All of these examples demonstrate a different dimension of the homelessness problem.

The conference is influenced by two streams.  The first stream focuses on prevention – how to stop homelessness at its source through interventions such as healthy public policy or the reduction of family violence.

The other stream focuses on early intervention – with the aim of describing multiple pathways for finding one’s way out.

With these dual goals in mind then, I have great pleasure in launching a paper prepared by Sustainability Ltd on behalf of Regional Public Health in Wellington which I think is going to be a key resource in moving us onwards towards prevention and / or early intervention.

The paper, ‘Homelessness in Aotearoa : issues and recommendations’ puts it clearly – to be homeless is to be in breach of one of our basic human rights: the right to adequate shelter.

In some cases shelter is but one of many complex difficulties confronting an individual.  Many homeless people also experience levels of poverty, poor physical or mental health, addiction, unemployment and exclusion.

And for tangata whenua, the symbolic disconnection from their cultural and spiritual base of their land, and relationships with their whanau, hapu and iwi, adds to the already significant disadvantage.

So what can we do, and how do we do it?

Well the good news I have for us all is that this paper doesn’t just come up with one answer – it comes us with 38.

The paper recommends 38 solutions within the framework of key areas to address homelessness – policy, planning, data collection, emergency prevention, systems prevention, service delivery and long term solutions.

I won’t go through all 38 – but as way of a taste of more to come, let me just share a few.

The paper suggests that an inter-departmental Government and sector working group is appointed to devise a New Zealand homelessness strategy.  Part of this strategy may well include a policy audit of the initiatives currently being undertaken by government agencies, to assess their impact on homelessness prevention.

Another set of recommendations looks at the causes and possible pathways that lead to homeless – with particular reference to understanding the range of issues affecting particular groups such as Maori, youth, mental health consumers and people leaving institutions, including prison.

There are other recommendations that suggested specialised service delivery will assist.  The proposals include minimum standards for boarding houses, and support for culturally appropriate services for Maori such as maximising the use of urban marae for emergency housing.

I want to finish by returning to the notion of resilience and how it fits in the context of homelessness.


In my experience, people do not usually wake up one morning and decide they’ll become homeless.


Yet if you were to read a study examining media portrayals of homeless people put out from Massey University, you would think that there are only two simple reasons why people become homeless; they are either innocent victims who have fallen prey to bad luck, or people who have made bad choices.


It isn’t actually that straight-forward.


What I think today will prove without a doubt is that homelessness is generally a result of many complex and profoundly worrying issues.

It is a result of the influence of unemployment; alcohol, drug and gambling addictions; or mental health. 

It may come about as a result of a lack of appropriate support following the release from prison; or it may be the tragic response to a combination of family deaths, relationship breakdowns or abuse.

Whatever the pathway in, there is a very high incidence of trauma among homeless people.  The homeless are often extremely vulnerable; they have multiple and complex needs; and there is no such thing as a simple or generic solution.

Just as Kia Riwai wasn’t satisfied with just one avenue of support to assist her people of Te Wai Pounamu; neither must we think our own agency response; our own individual research; our own party policy is the one and only idea worth considering.

The Maori Party, in our policy manifesto, has made an explicit commitment to ensure decent housing is available, as essential to good health and wellbeing.  We seek to address over-crowding and we seek to address homelessness – and so today’s hui has been high on our agenda for some time.

In this regard, we congratulate the New Zealand Coalition to End Homelessness on your courage, your commitment and your  creative vision in providing us with a platform towards the future.

I am extremely pleased to officially launch the paper "Homelessness in Aotearoa: Issues and Recommendations’.



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