Striving to fill gaps for our youth

By melissa wishart@wanganuichronicle co nz

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Marama Dey says youth workers are aware of young people sleeping rough or prostituting themselves for alcohol and a place to spend the night.  Photo/Stuart Munro
Marama Dey says youth workers are aware of young people sleeping rough or prostituting themselves for alcohol and a place to spend the night. Photo/Stuart Munro

A number of Wanganui organisations committed to helping the community and the city's youth hope to buy two state houses and convert them into emergency housing for teenagers.

"Wanganui has some pretty serious issues around youth at the moment, and lots of gaps for their services," said Wai Ora Christian Community Trust's founder Marama Dey. "We're all busy working together now to try to bring something together for our city."

Mrs Dey's main concerns for Wanganui's youth are emergency housing, recreation, and a lack of alternative education spaces.

"We would say 90 per cent of families are doing well, but in all communities we have the struggling and the poor, and a small percentage of youth and families committing crime and creating havoc," she said.

"The biggest gap I see is: where's the recreational stuff for youth in our city? I don't see it.

"Everybody thinks sports is the answer. There's a hell of a lot of youth that don't do sports."

Mrs Dey worries that Wanganui youth are committing crimes and getting into trouble out of boredom, and believes the key is talking to youth about what they want recreation-wise in their city.

"In our days we had dances," she said. "There was no alcohol or anything allowed, there were rules and regulations around alcohol. I don't believe that youth have really changed much. They want to get together and have fun and meet people - I don't think that's ever changed over the years."

She said part of the issue was youth - particularly Maori and Pasifika - who struggled to fit into the school system and ended up in alternative education instead.

"It is the state school system we still need to train in how to teach and work with Maori, Pasifika, and those with special needs and learning difficulties," Mrs Dey said.

"It's from the state school system we receive the high-care youth. It's one thing to talk about being relative to cultural needs, it's another thing to make it a living thing within the school for the students."

At Wai Ora, Mrs Dey and her team provide training, education and social services and work to teach youth and adults about their cultural roots.

"We've also recognised that youth are attached to a family and that you cannot heal the youth without healing the whole whanau," Mrs Dey said.

"Unfortunately many of our whanau being brought up in the city life have grown up in a western world with little connection to their kaumtua and kuia and have not grown up valuing themselves as Maori."

Mrs Dey said Wai Ora often brought in the families of its teenage clients and worked with them.

For some, though, the problem was their families.

"We've got kids our there that are out there doing this because their families are alcoholics and druggies," she said.

"They're out there on the street because they don't want to be in that environment, but they've entered a worse environment.

"They're not bad kids, they're good kids. They're youth that just need support. They come across angry and abusive because the parental responsibility is just not there."

Mrs Dey spoke of young girls they had dealt with at Wai Ora who prostituted themselves for alcohol, sleeping in whichever bed they landed that night.

"Some girls are out on the street making themselves available to anyone just to get a bed for the night, food and alcohol to drown their pain."

Some of these girls were as young as 14, she said. "Those of us working at the coal face of reality will say it is happening in small pockets of Wanganui and right throughout New Zealand."

For people like these and for any young people sleeping rough, Mrs Dey and the other Wanganui organisations hope to set up emergency housing - one house for boys and one for girls.

"We've never had emergency housing for teenagers before. Why not allow a collaborative group to purchase two houses to provide emergency housing to be available for emergency short-term accommodation?

"This is a definite need in our city since Jericho emergency housing was closed down."

Project Jericho, emergency housing run by the Christian Social Services, was closed in 2012 due to a lack of funding.

"The Government didn't seem to think it was needed. What? It was full of people!"

Foodbank coordinator for the City Mission, Linda Taumoeanga, agreed there was "definitely a need" for emergency housing for at-risk youth.

"No two ways around that," said Mrs Taumoeanga, who was previously involved with Project Jericho.

"It was just such a big cost to try and run it," she said of the housing operation.

"It needs some serious funding from somewhere. It always comes down to the money.

"For me, they need somewhere safe, and they need somewhere clean."

Mrs Taumoeanga also believes youth need a mentor to help them into their own housing situations and to give them experience dealing with agencies.

Mrs Dey, who started Wai Ora in 1991 after she and a group of volunteers found youth sleeping rough and took them in, said suggestions from Housing New Zealand that there wasn't much demand for state housing in Wanganui was "a load of rubbish".

"There's always a demand for state housing in Wanganui. Families are living with families. You've got overcrowded housing going on all the time.

"It's been an issue that community workers have had to work with for years.

"There's always a shortfall of funding when it comes to working with youth. Most of us working with youth get frustrated because there's no real funding around what should be happening."

Mrs Dey said the Ministry of Social Development was working hard to make changes and come into communities.

Her hopes for the emergency housing would see only about three teens in a house at a time.

"It creates a family atmosphere," she said.

She imagined an injection of "real funding" would go towards a "holistic approach" to working with youth.

"The community groups in that area should be working together. When you get that happening, I think it sets up a whole community focus."

Mrs Dey is passionate about sorting out the issues for Wanganui's youth, and proving they are good kids who just need guidance. She said the Government needed to step up and provide for them.

"I guess until our community comes together to take a serious look at how we become the 'overcomer' in the issues of family violence, nothing will ever change.

"The real world to me are those that are struggling."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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