As the smell of home-cooking fills the room, a special group of Tauranga women gather around a dining table each evening.
They’ve helped grow the vegetables in the garden outside, and have worked together to keep the house clean and tidy. Baking has been dropped off by friendly neighbours and there’s plenty of laughter around the table as friendships start to form.
It’s a far cry from where they were living one month ago – on the street, in cars, or in motel rooms paid for by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).
Awhina House, “a place where people can transition from homelessness to independence”, has become a safe haven for these women since it opened its doors on April 8.
Manager Angela Wallace is delighted the shelter is now up and running, after a year-long journey by advocacy group He Kaupapa Kotahitanga Trust Tauranga. Awhina House can house up to 12 women at a time and provides support to help them get back on their feet and find their own accommodation in the community.
“One of the women recently said to me ‘I feel like this is my safe place’. They’re all really enjoying being here and feeling like this is a home,” Angela says.
“We have women here who have been living in their cars or in emergency housing like motel rooms which is quite isolating. They’ve just been in a holding pattern. How do you plan ahead when you’re living in a car? All you’re thinking about is how to buy petrol and where your next meal is coming from. You’re in survival mode.
“Here, they’re in a supported environment with wrap-around services to help them move forward. They can stop, take a breath, and focus on their long-term goals.”
Eye On The Future
Four staff are now employed at Awhina House to work with women and help them overcome the challenges they face.
“We’re really guided by what our guests want to achieve. We work with them to set goals and make individual plans. Their goals might be to get employment or to have a home in the community with their kids. While we don’t house children here, we’re all about building whanau and rebuilding those lost family connections.”
All women will receive advice from Tauranga’s Budgeting Service, and a positive lifestyle programme offered by the Salvation Army is also proving popular. “It teaches them skills like stress management, self-esteem, assertiveness and conflict resolution. It’s a good foundational course,” Angela explains.
A nurse visits once a week to provide health advice and check-ups, and Awhina House staff have been working hard to build connections with agencies such as Women’s Refuge, MSD, The People’s Project, the local health board, Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust and Te Puna Houora, all of whom are able to refer women in need.
“It’s all about building relationships. That’s the bottom line. Keeping everyone safe and working towards independent housing in the community.
“We will help our women apply for housing, gather the necessary documents, and teach them how to present themselves in the best possible light to landlords. We’ll also advocate on their behalf to help them get into their own home.”
Awhina House was made possible thanks to generous donations from a range of private and community organisations, and funding agencies, including a $60,000 grant from BayTrust. A further $6000 was also provided by BayTrust for strategic planning late last year.
“It’s a large amount, we’re so grateful,” Angela says. “It means we can focus our energies on doing the mahi here, and we can pay our bills and employees and buy the stuff we need.”
A team of volunteers is also on board, working with the women to make a positive change in their lives. Angela says she’s thrilled to be open before winter starts and expects the shelter will fill up in the coming months.
“Women are coming here and transformation is happening. They’re all doing really well and making progress. They’re engaged with what we’re offering which is great to see.”