Te Ao Māori / Housing

'No human face, patience and empathy' for Māori homelessness, Tribunal hears

22:00 pm on 22 March 2021

The government needs to apologise for failing to ensure Māori have adequate housing, and ignoring the problem for so long, the Waitangi Tribunal has been told.

Te Puea Marae chairperson Hurimoana Dennis Photo: RNZ/ John Boynton

The hearing into how the Crown has perpetuated Māori homelessness is underway at Te Puea marae in Mangere, which has opened its doors to hundreds of homeless whānau over the last five years, and brought the original claim to the Waitangi Tribunal.

Mary Moeke-Te Purei has experienced the manaakitanga of Te Puea, after finding herself homeless despite doing everything in her power to find somewhere to live.

The then-lecturer in early childhood education and mother-of-three lost her home after her marriage broke down in 2017.

Despite owning the house, she couldn't access the money from the sale because of an ongoing court battle over the property.

Broke and with nowhere to go, she had to sleep in a van with her three tamariki, who were all under 10.

"It was very uncomfortable and scary sleeping in our van," she said.

"One night as we slept, I woke because a woman knocked on our window for a cigarette - I drove away.

"Another night we were all woken by a group of youths. They had started fighting and one of them was being held up against our van and being threatened."

She couldn't find any rooms at safe houses because they were all full or didn't cater for children.

She was also rejected from 40 private rentals, so went to the Ministry of Social Development for help.

"But I was told that I did not fit the criteria for any assistance. This was due to the fact that I had employment and I and my children were not considered sufficiently destitute to warrant any assistance.

"Despite that categorisation, we were in fact broke."

It was this type of response from the ministry that Te Puea Marae chairperson Hurimoana Dennis said was part of the problem.

"There's no human face, patience and empathy.

"The absence of Māori strategies and supporting Māori structures and initiatives only allow and encourage agency staff to behave poorly to homeless whānau in urgent need of support."

Through its Manaaki Tangata E Rua transitional housing programme, Te Puea Marae has been providing temporary accomodation and finding houses for those in need since 2016.

Since then, Dennis said it has helped over 500 whānau living in cars, giving them bed and kai.

The model includes having a ministry official who works onsite, to connect whānau with the services they need and to help them find a more permanent solution.

Dennis said it was a blueprint for how the government should be dealing with homelessness and is underpinned by tikanga Maaori.

"At the moment we can't see any natural fit, in particular, so when MSD looks after the social housing waitlist, and the other one [Ministry of Housing and Urban Development] looks after the available stock, the two don't talk, so we're saying no, no that needs to change and here at the marae we have the ability to do that."

Marae treasurer Jennifer Iris Georgina Nuku said programmes like Manaaki Tangata don't get adequately funded as government contracts were often a set amount for each whānau, regardless of how big each family is.

"The service delivery fee covers wages and not much else... often we staff work longer than our contracted hours in order to get the job done, we don't get paid any overtime."

Dennis wants to see one body overseeing whānau housing services, which would include social, transitional and papakainga.

He also wants a formal apology from the Crown for ignoring Māori homelessness and failing to enact legislation and policy to change it.

The hearing is set down for the rest of the week.