Helping others get a roof over their heads gives Zap Haenga meaning to the years he spent living on the streets in Gisborne, Christchurch, Auckland, Porirua and Wellington.
He’s the fulltime housing co-ordinator at Atareira – Easy Access Housing (EAH), which specialises in helping homeless people with mental health and addiction issues find accommodation.
To help achieve this EAH runs five houses that provide short term accommodation where tangata whaiora can begin planning how they will find more permanent accommodation.
The phrase “tangata whaiora” (Māori for a person seeking wellness) has been adopted to best describe those EAH works with. It is open to all, regardless of ethnicity.
Zap says these days it is difficult without accommodation for a person to easily fulfil the basic requirements for applying for housing and supports, like setting up a Real Me online identity (which requires a home address), obtaining their birth certificate, opening a bank account, sorting out benefits and, even, staying in touch with family and friends.
Life experience builds rapport and trust
Zap lived on the streets for about 18 years of his life. He was also a tangata whaiora representative on the steering group that advised on the setup of EAH in early 2000.
“I love my work – it gives purpose to many of my own life experiences. Our residents often know that I’ve had similar experiences to them and I’ve found this usually makes it easier to build rapport and trust.
Transitioning from long-term rough sleeping takes time and can be incredibly hard to adjust to. For some, it can involve going back on-and-off the streets a number of times, which is one of the reasons EAH has an open door return policy for ex-residents who want to give it another go,” he says.
It was a Christian couple who opened their Wellington home to Zap that changed – probably saved – his life. He still keeps in contact with them on Facebook.
Zap is of Ngāti Pōrou and Ngāti Kahungunu descent and spent his early years in Gisborne.
He was removed from his blended family and, at 10, became a ward of the state.
Foster homes followed but, being something of a rebel, he was attracted to the freedom of life on the streets where his street mates became his family.
By 28, and while still living on the streets in Wellington, he was seriously addicted to solvents “and physically on my way out.”
The couple belonged to Stillwaters Community and would put on a community meal every Friday night. Zap later moved in with, and became a part of, this church community and became involved in providing the Friday meals for others.
The catalyst to recovery
He stopped huffing solvents not long before turning 29 – and this was the catalyst that led to his successful recovery from addiction and mental stability.
Around that time, he came into contact with Atareira (then called SF) and he enjoyed using their drop-in centre’s computers as he wanted to learn how to send emails.
Zap had previously spent some time at Victoria University of Wellington where he gained a diploma in Matauranga Māori. His interest in using computers began then, but his skills were very rudimentary.
SF partnered with McGirr Training and opened a learning centre for tangata whaiora. Zap successfully completed all the computer qualifications and, eventually, became the tutor, then the co-ordinator of the centre.
He recalls a learner at the centre he worked with, who had never even touched a computer mouse before coming to the classes. This person went on to complete a master’s degree in computing and now has their own business providing internet and cloud-based storage services.
What we did was provide an opportunity and platform for a spark to occur. He’s done all the work and has flourished amazingly.”
Work based on research
EAH is one of the very few services in the country with a sole focus on housing tangata whaiora whose mental illness and/or addictions have contributed to them becoming homeless.
EAH’s work is based on research that shows a relationship between having sustainable housing and recovering from mental illness and addictions.
One of the current residents, Richard, says finding permanent housing is difficult.
“ What Easy Access Housing does is good, but there’s just no housing around. I’m finding it pretty hard.”
The main challenges for EAH are the cost and affordability of housing, the lack of choice in housing options and the stigma and discrimination.
“We’re about empowering tangata whaiora to support themselves into housing of their own choosing,” Zap says.
The organisation’s funding comes from the Capital and Coast District Health Board and the Ministry of Social Development.
EAH houses are leased from Housing New Zealand and Wellington City Council, and they can cater for up to 20 people short term at any one time.
One house is exclusively for women and male-to-female transgender, and the other four are for men. Zap says there is always greater demand for places for men.
EAH has a housing facilitator who helps the residents with applications to Housing New Zealand and Wellington City Council’s social housing, as well as the private sector.
Now a home owner
What is life like for Zap now that he is no longer on the streets?
I never would have dreamed, when I was at my lowest, that I would be where I am today. I often find it hard to fathom that I have gone from literally living in a gutter, to owning my own home. I am in a stable relationship with a loving partner, and we are able to share our love together in raising our fur baby (dog).
“I have a rewarding job that provides opportunities to others to positively enhance their own realities if they want. Now that I am in a different space, I am able to reconnect with my natural family in ways that couldn’t happen before. I really enjoyed sharing last Christmas with them for the first time since I was about six years old. The best thing is I am alive, happy, passionate and moving forward.”
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For more information:
Atareira – Easy Access Housing
175 Victoria Street – level 5, Wellington
Ph 04 499 1049 extn. 2
Email: [email protected]