Tommy Wilson: Hardship in our own backyard

By Tommy Wilson

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Sometimes we see what is going on in our own backyard when it comes to homelessness.
Sometimes we see what is going on in our own backyard when it comes to homelessness.

When it comes to war stories about homelessness, last week has had more than a few shockers told.

Sad stories about families sleeping rough in cars and caravans, sheltering in old sheds - and grateful beds found on floors in already overcrowded outrageously priced sub-standard rental accommodation.

We hear them, we read about them and some of us see them up close and personal every day when we are the last-chance hotel between the homeless and the houses that could be if we took a different approach.

Sometimes we see but we don't connect with what is going on in our own backyard when it comes to homelessness and in many cases we react by shifting the blame to the safety valve of drugs, alcohol, abuse, gangs and the goings on with people drowning in poverty brought on by the failure of our elected politicians to react and provide the putea (funds).

While there is an element of cause and effect in all of these contributing factors, perhaps we need to look at homelessness through new lenses of individual and community caring.

This is the approach we are trying at Te Tuinga and last week, we invited in local church leaders to help us champion an out-of-the-box thinking concept we are calling Whare4Whanau and Whangai for Whanau.

Whare 4 Whanau is lining up the desperate ducks who are calling out for help in the homeless world and being part of Minister Bennett's big plan of reconfiguring existing housing, to cater for the demographics of front-line desperation when it comes to emergency housing.

This works by building three or four new warm whare on blocks of land where once was a single whare with a large back yard. It's a simple recipe where four families can live where one is currently being housed, and personally I don't care what political party is championing it.

Once these whare 4 whanau are established then the wrap-around social services like budgeting, drug and alcohol counselling, positive parenting etc can be applied far more effectively. Then and only then will pockets of positive outcomes for homelessness and hopelessness start to dominate the war-story stats, and I can go back to writing kids' books.

The second solution we are putting up is Whangai4Whanau. This is a challenge we have put out to those carrying the cross of Christianity and it's about adopting an attitude of gratitude for the abundance we all have when right in our own back yard so many struggle to find a place to call home.

We need to ask ourselves what are we doing personally to help whangai or adopt the homeless. What is our tithe to our church, our minister, our refugees in far-off shores, and does it carry over to our own back yard? Do we care and is it our problem to ponder as we pray and give thanks for all the good things God gives us in life?

So far we have had two churches come forward and answer our call to help the homeless, and it is no surprise one of them is the Salvation Army, while the other is South City Baptist.

If we can whangai or match one struggling homeless family with one church family then not only would Jesus be very happy because that was his gig but so would those who desperately need to know someone out there cares.

We marvel at and admire the Mother Teresas and Mahatma Gandhis of this world, as we do the community champions highlighted on Ted Talks, and they are great benchmarks for communities to strive towards. But the reality is we all have it in us to give just a little of our time, energy and resources to the homeless.

For Maori it is in our tikanga (cultural practices) to give and yet we for some reason don't show up at the front line to help those who are helping their own people to stay warm this winter.

It is a frontline that is almost at breaking point. Just as those in desperate need of emergency housing need to know we as a community care about them, so too does the front line of social services who have to hear these heart-breaking war stories all day and every day.

Let's not wait until the Bill English Budget or the one after that come along so we can point the bone of blame at the politicians' purse strings.

Let's not wait until Jesus has to come back and remind his flock about giving until it hurts.

And let's not wait until the next war story of emergency housing hits the headlines, and gives us the "excuse-me" waltz to turn our backs and walk away.

- broblack@xtra.co.nz

- Tommy Wilson is a best-selling author and local writer.

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