Luxury accommodation originally planned for travellers to New Zealand has become a home in the Capital for Kiwis travelling through life’s journey.
Central Wellington’s newest Covid-19 silver lining story is Te Pā Pori. It is the latest expansion by the Wellington City Mission, which became involved in transitional housing about two years ago.
Te Pā Pori (which means a kinship of people/community) is a joint venture between the mission, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Alex Cassels, owner of the landmark zebra-painted former backpackers in Tory Street, Wellington next to Bunnings.
Alex was converting the backpackers into luxury accommodation when Covid-19 struck.
A conversation took place between him and the City Missioner, Murray Edridge.
Murray had approached Alex to see if he had any buildings suitable for transitional housing.
When Alex showed Murray around the Tory Street Backpackers they both knew it would be perfect. Murray then had a conversation with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the result is a three-way agreement between the Ministry (which is underwriting the full costs of the six-year lease), Alex and the mission.
No change to high end specs
It was agreed there would be no change to the high-end refurbishment specifications which communicate dignity and honour to the manuhiri (guests). The mission believes dignity should underpin everything it does, says Kath Bier, the Mission’s General Manager for Brand and Communications.
There are 78 restfully decorated bedrooms, each with its own en-suite bathroom.
Rooms contain a queen size bed, table and easy chair, TV and a mini kitchen with sink, fridge and microwave so manuhiri can be partly self-sufficient for meal preparation.
The rooms are grouped by floor into four communities – one each for men, women, couples and transgender, all aged 18 or older. Swipe card security keeps the accommodation floors separate and the main entrance has 24/7 concierge reception staff by kaitiaki (guardians) with the twofold roles of wellbeing and security.
Each community has a communal gathering space for shared meals and community connections and is led by on-site social workers.
Part of a community
Kath says the overarching message to manuhiri is that they are not alone but part of a community.
Those living in each community are expected to attend a 9 am gathering (unless they are out working) where the thought of the day is shared. It could be a famous saying or a Proverb and this sets the tone for the day.
Kath says the mission has a very different model for looking at the issue of someone experiencing homelessness. It aims to support each person with access to a range of social services that could include advocacy, counselling and therapy.
“From what I have seen from our other pā, that has been transformational,” Kath says.
These guys here (staff) know how to make a home.”
For some of the manuhiri, a residential address will enable them to get a bank account and access to various Government benefits.
Manuhiri pay rent and sign a contract that is for three months, although the mission’s average occupancy is closer to 24 weeks due to low housing stocks. The agreement covers expectations for both manuhiri and the mission.
Offering hope to change people’s circumstances
Murray Edridge says Te Pā Pori “represents a significant contribution into the challenges that Wellington faces.”
“Te Pā Pori offers transitional housing, which means it offers hope to people to change their circumstances.
So, this is a chance to make a real dent in the social issues and the homeless issues we’ve seen in the city . . . helping people change their lives.
“So that the transitional housing model that will operate in Te Pā Pori at some scale . . . will enable people to address the issues that got them into a place of need in the first place and we believe that will make a real and a sustaining difference in the city in the days ahead.”
The mission’s expansion into transitional housing began about two years ago with conversion of the former Britannia House in Petone into 19 one-bedroom units named Te Pā Manawa. Kath says the project proved so successful it revolutionised the way the mission looked at homelessness.
Since then, it has added Kemp Home in Titahi Bay (seven one-bedroom units) and during lockdown was gifted the former Wellington Night Shelter (now called Te Pā Maru, is about to undergo a full refurbishment).
Shelter on the journey
Collectively the mission’s transitional housing model is named Te Pūnaha Pā, which means “Shelter on the Journey.”
The first manuhiri to move into Te Pā Pori are from Te Pā Maru plus residents from several floors the mission leased in a Manners Street building.
Kath says that for most of the mission’s manuhiri, they are experiencing homelessness because of a significant life event, such as serious illness, loss of a job or a relationship break-up. Most of the first manuhiri are men. Kath says men more than women often experience more difficulty finding housing.
Te Pā Pori was officially opened on 6 July 2021 by Deputy Prime Minister and Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson, Housing Minister Megan Woods and Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson (Homelessness).
Taking pride of place at the entrance are two upright amo (poles) and maihi (arms) forming a waharoa (entranceway) designed and sculpted by Uenuku master carver, Kura Wanikau-Tahana-Tūroa (Uenuku, Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou and Ngāpuhi) and the team at Nā Tohunga o Māui (the place they work together).
Kura studied under the late Jock McEwen and other eminent tohunga whakairo.
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