August 12, 2020
"Wow, this is actually mine." Walking through his new home for the first time last week, Ross, who only wants to be known by his first name, is apprehensive and lost for words. "It's the first time I've had a house of my own ... it was a very special moment."
Ross had been on the streets for 25 years before walking through the doors of Takitimu House three months ago. He is the youngest of 14 children and when his parents died, he ended up on the streets. The following years were spent sliding into darkness through violence, addiction, and time behind bars.
"I found myself at the bottom of the gutter." His childhood traumas hung over him, which began with an abusive family home. "My father was exactly like Jake the Muss from Once Were Warriors."
While homeless, his nights would be spent with his head on a rock, and he did not realise he did not have to be cold all the time. "I couldn't see a light at the end of my tunnel."
But he now sits with shelter manager Annamarie Angus in a neat brown jersey, socks pulled up mid-shin, his shoulders relaxed and a twinkle in his eyes.
He is one of 10 men who were supported into housing by the shelter in a record month last month. The men went to a range of accommodation types - private rentals, social housing and rest homes.
Within a few days of being at the shelter, Ross noticed a shift in his mindset. A sense of community and belonging is an important aspect in the healing of the men.
The three months were difficult but the support from staff, other men, and the multiple wrap-around services and programmes kept him going. "I can see my children being with me, I can see happiness which wasn't there before, I can see them growing to love me as a father."
This week, he starts his construction job in Omokoroa.
Angus sat back and smiled listening to him speak of his journey and said people came through at "different stages of readiness". While Ross worked through his issues and was housed within three months, another man who was housed last month had been with the shelter for three years.
"They need to recover and they need to rebuild before any of them are able to be housed," which depended on how ready they were to work through their trauma. The complications men arrived with varied, including generational and systemic trauma, discrimination, and disconnection from family, whānau, and society in general, she said.
Other challenges were poverty, significant mental and physical health problems, phenomenal debt, detrimental tenancy histories, criminal backgrounds and substance abuse. Some had no identification, no doctor, no bank account. On top of this; some felt anger, a sense of loss, hopelessness, and defeat.
"Our people would still feel like they are teetering on the edge of society with no real meaning to their lives, even with a roof over their heads," Angus said.
Psychologist David Chaplow had worked with the shelter for a number of years. He had facilitated the physical and mental assessment of some of the homeless. Chaplow said with the extensive issues that needed addressing, the wrap-around services at Takitimu had set a high benchmark.
With 4000 people identified as homeless in the Western Bay of Plenty by the Mayoral Taskforce, Angus said as a society, the issues had been left too long, and there was no quick fix.
There were specifically designed programmes held on-site, most of which were comprised of grassroots therapeutic value such as the Wakaunua Whaihauora Programme and Kei hea Koe Wananga.