Invisible people | The Salvation Army

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Invisible people

a woman in a tunnel
Posted May 24, 2019

New Zealand has some of the worst rates of homelessness in the developed world. The Salvation Army is leading the fight to get people into warm and dry homes. Every person given a home has a story to tell—here are some of their stories.

You don’t have to walk too far along Cuba or Queen Streets in our main centres to see that homelessness is far too prevalent in this country. But rough sleepers are just a fraction of the homeless in New Zealand. Many of these people are invisible—living in cars, overcrowded conditions or garages.

Through its social and transitional housing programmes, The Salvation Army is not only providing people with a roof over their heads—it’s helping them rediscover their dignity, independence and future.

Deelah and Daniel’s story

At the beginning of 2018, circumstances forced Whakatane couple Deelah Nathan and Daniel Morgan to ‘move’ into their Nissan Cefiro.

With no rental history to their names, the two struggled to find a property of their own. ‘Coming into winter, it was absolutely freezing,’ Deelah says. ‘We used to go to public spaces and public toilets—park up anywhere we could.’

Sleeping in a car left them unable to function in their jobs, meaning they both became unemployed. ‘We weren’t coping with living in the car.’

After around six months, the couple heard through a counsellor that The Salvation Army would be a good place to seek temporary accommodation. They were soon given a room at the Nau Mai Motel—accommodation run by The Salvation Army with funding from the Ministry of Social Development.

They have since moved into Salvation Army Transitional Housing. ‘It’s been perfect, it’s given us somewhere to have Daniel’s kids at the weekends as well,’ Deelah says. This has also allowed the two to return to regular employment—Deelah now works at a creche, and Daniel as a painter and plasterer.

However, their challenges are far from over. The couple are currently battling to find a longer-term rental solution, something which continues to prove difficult without a rental history.

‘We were getting as far as meeting the landlords and having extra viewings and things like that, but then we just get declined because another family comes in with more references. ‘We don’t get a chance because there’s so many people looking for housing that have rental history that get in before us.’ ‘We’re the couple that gets declined as soon as you fill out the papers. It’s hard when you don’t have experience but then you don’t get a chance to gain it.’

Despite this, the couple have been blown away by the support The Salvation Army Corps in Whakatane has shown them. Th e two have even started going to Sunday services. ‘It’s like they’re your family, they genuinely care for you,’ Deelah says. ‘We love it. We have met so many cool, genuine people. ‘My partner, he’s got quite a big past with gangs and things. When he had facial tattoos, he would get frowned upon straight away. But The Salvation Army didn’t look at him like that.

‘It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what you look like, they love you for who you are.’

Sallies on the frontlines

Homelessness in this country is defined as ‘living situations where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing are either without shelter, in temporary    accommodation, sharing accommodations, or living in uninhabitable housing’, according to a definition produced by Statistics New Zealand, Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development in 2009.

This includes anyone who is sleeping rough (outside) or in vehicles, along with those living in boarding houses, camping grounds or lounges and garages not their own. A story by TVNZ claimed 70 percent of our homeless population are living in overcrowded conditions.

A 2017 Yale University study found that, shockingly, New Zealand has the highest number of homeless per capita out of all OECD countries. (However, the researchers noted that comparing countries was difficult due to differing ways of measuring the issue.

Working with the homeless has been an integral element of Salvation Army work since it began in 1865. Today, in New Zealand, we work to house the homeless in two ways: short term transitional housing and long-term social housing.

Transitional housing provides accommodation for people for a 12–20 week period. This also includes wrap-around support which helps people address the reasons that contributed to their homelessness. Staff then support clients to find longer-term housing. This can be through Salvation Army Social Housing, private tenancies or Housing NZ.

Salvation Army Social Housing (SASH) has traditionally offered longer-term, low-rental options for those over 55. However, this has been expanded in the past few years and provides good quality housing for singles, couples, families and the elderly. These tenants pay Income Related Rent through the Ministry of Social Development.

The golden years? Joe and Donna’s story

Our emphasis on housing seniors reflects an often invisible face of homelessness in New Zealand. Joe and Donna were thrust into this position when, after 10 years in their South Auckland rental, the landlords wanted the house back. Escalating house and rental prices meant that the retirees could no longer afford to live in Auckland. Joe converted his truck into a functional campervan and was able to use his practical skills to complete the installations, including a toilet, sink and cooker.

They spent around a year travelling and parking at various locations, mainly in the Coromandel Peninsula and back to Auckland—handy to family. They would regularly go fishing, gathering shellfish, eeling, picking puha and watercress. Any excess was given to whānau.

The winter months were particularly tough. Condensation in the truck made it impossible to keep things dry. ‘We didn’t stay too long in one place before people start hassling us, and security and police officers would knock on our door in the middle of the night and ask us to move along,’ Joe says.

‘Apart from losing lifelong living conditions and security due to a number of reasons, the stigmatisation and shame that comes from being homeless can have a very real detrimental effect on the mental health of the elderly.’

After several months, they were offered a Housing NZ home in Huntly. However, the move felt like a step backwards— the house was run down with accumulated rubbish on the section. The neighbours were having a party, and there was the unmistakable aroma of cannabis wafting in the afternoon air. ‘We’ve had some pretty tough times and met some pretty weird people, but expecting us to move in next door to these characters is beyond a joke,’ says Joe.

However, ‘driving from place to place felt like going from nowhere to get to nowhere, and getting further and further away from somewhere to call home’. The couple eventually went onto a waiting list for housing with The Salvation Army. In July last year they were provided with a home in the South Auckland suburb of Favona. Joe says that they have been blessed with a beautiful home that ‘is everything that a home should be.

‘I’d like to thank everyone from The Salvation Army for their support, kindness, and humanity during this difficult time in our lives.’

When tragedy strikes: Colin and Sally’s story

Often, homelessness comes fast on the heels of a tragic event.

For over 10 years, Auckland couple Colin and Sally Campbell lived in a small caravan near the Bombay hills. But when Sally was diagnosed with a brain tumour, life got turned upside
down. In an interview with the Manukau Courier, Colin said the tumour was about the size of a squashed tennis ball.

‘That’s quite large as far as tumours go,’ he says. After the surgery, the Campbells returned to their caravan, with Sally in a wheelchair. But circumstances quickly proved less than ideal. Sally began having epileptic seizures every few weeks, some which would last up to eight hours. Mundane, everyday tasks, like getting Sally to the ablutions block, became extremely difficult.

‘It was a loose metal footpath and if she wanted to go at 10pm in the rain I had to push her there in her wheelchair,’ Colin said.

When Colin applied to Work and Income for social housing, he was told there was a long waiting list. But after a bit of an internet search, he soon came across The Salvation Army’s social housing service. Several forms later, they found themselves viewing a home in Favona.

‘We had a quick look and said “Yep, that’s excellent, if it’s still available we’ll take it’’. Things are much easier now. It’s way better and we’re way happier—I would hate to think where we would be without The Salvation Army.’

Colin says there’s no way the couple could have afforded market rent in Auckland and if they hadn’t secured social housing, they’d probably be homeless.

The Salvation Army owns multiple homes in the South Auckland suburb of Favona. Major Graham Rattray manages 25 of these and says he receives up to four applications a week from people needing housing.

‘We could fill all our houses twice over—my application list is growing every week, but we just don’t have the houses.’

Social housing tenants in New Zealand pay about a quarter of their income on rent, with Work and Income paying the rest.  In February, Stuff reported that the public housing waitlist had cracked 10,000—73 percent more than a year prior.

Welcoming in the stranger: John Maeva

With every story of a person housed safely, Salvation Army staff are working tirelessly behind the scenes. If you’ve ever visited Waitakere Central Corps (aka the Faith Factory), you may have been fortunate enough to encounter the charisma and charm of John Maeva. Every morning John can be seen letting homeless people in to the corps for breakfast.

A community outreach worker, John has spent the last four years getting to know a range of homeless folk throughout the suburbs of West Auckland. He regularly spends his weekends getting to know those sleeping under bridges and on park benches.

John says he grew up in a family that would welcome marginalised people, particularly those who had moved from the Pacific Islands. ‘I think my inspiration comes from my parents, just seeing all the work that they did with housing people in the community, and our own people from the Islands coming over and getting specialist help because of the nuclear blasting that had been happening [in Tahiti].’

John recounts a particular story close to his heart: One day, when visiting a Work and Income office in New Lynn, he struck up a conversation with a homeless man. Shortly after, he gave the man his card. The man then recognised John’s surname as being one from the Cook Islands. ‘He knew how to pronounce my name properly, no one can ever do that.’

As it turned out, they both came from the same village in Rarotonga. ‘When I heard that, I said: “You’re coming home with me”.’ The man went on to stay with John and his wife for several months.

He has since been housed and gone on to regularly share his story and mental health journey with seminars and clinics run by the Waitakere District Health Board. ‘He became a Christian and turned his life around,’ John says.

Despite fighting for a seemingly unsolvable issue, it’s John’s Christian faith that keeps him inspired. ‘Jesus keeps me motivated and keeps me going. I always say “What would Jesus do?”. Jesus would go out and find and help the homeless, regardless of how hard it might seem.’

In numbers

• 1446 families—that’s 2876 people—were housed in transitional properties over the past year.

• 856 families—or 1989 people—were transitioned into safe, dry and warm longer-term accommodation over the past year.

• The Salvation Army has 475 transitional housing units and properties.

• SASH (Salvation Army Social Housing) owns 312 properties throughout New Zealand.

• A further 117 SASH homes are set to be built and filled by the end of 2020.

By Hugh Collins (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 18 May 2019, p6-9 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.