Grace MacCormick reports the Wellington City Mission has helped more than 50 men move from the city’s streets into housing since the Covid Lockdown.
And the MIssion has provided five times the usual number of food parcels to families and individuals.
She says: ‘Prior to the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown, around 160 people were living on the streets of central Wellington.
While the community as a whole faced challenges during Level 4 lockdown these challenges were magnified significantly for those that call the streets their home.
Planning needed to house the homeless
On the brink of lockdown Wellington City Missioner, Murray Edridge, began thinking about the implications of lockdown for the homeless community.
Those living rough tend to have impaired immune systems and as a consequence they become a more vulnerable population in the context of the pandemic.
Public facilities closed during Lockdown
With all public facilities closing, including public showers and toilets, it was clear that something needed to be put in place to further support the homeless community.
Mr Edridge states “What we did in response was to set up an accommodation facility by negotiating between a private landlord, central government and the Wellington City Council.
“As a consequence, we managed to establish a facility ( Te Paapori ) that now has 37 male residents in it.”
Te Paapori, on Manners Street, has 38 self-contained units, with 24/7 staffing, daily meal service, support functions and security.
Residents from the bottom floor of the Wellington Night Shelter, who were originally living and sleeping collectively, were among the first to move into this facility.
The rest of the residents came from referral from the council using their emergency housing line.
Wellington’s night shelter
(Wellington Night Shelter. Source: RNZ)
Those people who could live independently and were reasonably high functioning were often put into motel units or self-contained apartments.
Mr Edridge spoke of the support that was given to those who moved from the street into housing: “Housing isn’t just about walls and a roof over your head, it is about the ability to live successfully and to connect appropriately into the community.”
The other main focus for the City Mission during the COVID-19 period has been food distribution.
Everybody working on the Mission site is helping with the food — unloading trucks, delivering food parcels and preparing food.
“We are now preparing, packaging and delivering five times the volume we used to do before Level 4.
“More than 80% of that has been delivered to people’s homes, which has never been part of our model before” says Mr Edridge.
City Missioner Murray Edridge helping to load food boxes
Aside from those changes, the City Mission has continued with its residential accommodation services, social work and other support, albeit without face-to -face engagement.
“We have done things that six weeks ago we would not have thought possible in terms of the food we have been able to produce and get out into the community, and the housing we have offered,” Mr Edridge says.
While the City Mission has now successfully housed 51 men during the COVID-19 pandemic, it says it’s likely to increase that number in the next week with more space available in the Wellington Night Shelter.
The Mission has taken tbis over as a transitional housing service.
So where to now?
The City Mission is currently is talking to the council and central government about how the city can redesign its services now, and invest in infrastructures and facilities, so the Mission can offer the same support and accommodation in the long term.
Mr Edridge says: “The biggest blessing for us during this whole experience has been the generosity of the public.
“The hope is that after this we continue to become better at what we do, that we use technology better and we think about new ways of doing things.”
He adds that the City Mission’s challenge now is to build on what it has achieved under a state of emergency, and to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
“We started this journey with a call for kindness which was the same call the government was giving at that time.,” Says Murray Edridge.
“We have seen the genuine kindness of the community, and ultimately we hope to become a better and kinder society after this pandemic.”