A brief encounter with Helen Robinson of the Auckland City Mission

By Sarah Daniell

A few words with Helen Robinson of Auckland City Mission.

How has your job informed your views on money?

Our family circumstances changed at the beginning of my teenage years, and from that point my mother raised me and my four siblings on a Widow's Benefit. It was very difficult to live off not a lot and it places immense pressure on families. Given this, my thoughts on money haven't changed in my line of work, because the Mission deals with families living on very limited incomes.

What does money mean to you?

My values have shaped my philosophy on money. For me, it's important, that as a community we look out for each other, especially the most vulnerable among us. As a society we are making decisions about the distribution of money and those decisions are value-driven. I believe we need to look at those values as a society and the choices we are making. Over the last 10 months more than 12,000 families have needed to come to the Mission for emergency food parcels. There are lots of people in our society who are going without even food and that's insane, it's just not good enough.

What would help people in New Zealand who are struggling, who are on the poverty line?

The Mission's "Family 100 Research Project" listened to the stories of 100 families who were long-term users of our foodbank services. They told us that there were eight key drivers that kept people trapped in poverty. Those drivers are debt, housing, employment, health, food insecurity, support services, education and justice. Change any one of those realities and it would create a big shift in the lives of those who struggle.

Define wealth.

Wealth has to be where everyone has what they need. Material goods, yes, but more than that. A safe place, a place to belong, dream and achieve their potential. Good, healthy relationships, a chance to love and be loved. A land that is cared for and respected. My wealth is linked intimately to your wealth, and the wealth of our planet.

Give avarice a face - who would it be or what would it look like?

Part of my day-to-day reality is being with people who really genuinely don't have enough. Working at the Mission, I am also struck by the generosity of many Aucklanders and their willingness to give and share. When people see and experience the reality of someone who doesn't have enough, usually empathy comes. However, where there is no empathy, avarice grows.

What political figure or public figure, alive or dead, do you think embodies the greatest philosophy on money?

One of my favourite quotes comes from Mother Teresa: "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

What single greatest piece of wisdom about life have you heard from a client or a co-worker, while working at the Mission?

Part of my day-to-day work is being part of the Mission Community Centre, as we serve dinner here 365 days a year. Everyone is welcome to this table, no matter what. And I am often struck how accepting this community is. It teaches me a lot.

What about New Zealand right now needs to be fixed?

Social housing.

What do you value far and above money?

People, our land, our wairua.

If you won Lotto, what would you do?

Celebrate and then think about it.

What the world needs now, is?

Some quiet space.

What is your greatest indulgence?

People and their stories.

By the numbers

Auckland City Mission: 01.07.14-30.06.15

132 homeless people housed.

$1.3 million worth of food distributed via Foodlink and through the Mission's Crisis Care services.

12,000+ emergency food parcels distributed to families in need.

2000+ homeless outreach contacts.

45,000+ visits to the Mission's Homeless Community Drop-In Centre.

Helen Robinson is Team Leader, Crisis Care at Auckland City Mission.

- Canvas

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