Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Well, sadly no one, if you are coming out of the gate of Waikeria or Spring Hill Prison and back to Tauranga, Rotorua or any other drop-off point the bus takes you to when leaving the four walls and wash basin of a prison cell.

Most times, the recently released jumps off the bus in Hamilton and blows the few bob he has in his pocket, and quicker than you can sing "please release me" he is back to the environment that put him in prison in the first place.


Last Friday we tried to get a better understanding of what happens when an inmate is released from prison by spending time with the person in charge of finding them a whare, and I came away with a sense of hopelessness that can only be a sliver of what the actual person trying to make a new life feels once released.

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In Tauranga there is no residential care for these men and Rotorua is only a light lag behind. Not as much as a bunk for a bro with nowhere to go is what these vulnerable men face.

Our hopes of bringing beds to these boys and men who need somewhere to make a fresh start could be about to change if a consortium we are supporting is successful in tendering for the 1250 houses in the social housing transfer which is about to take place in the coming months.

There are three bidders or horses in this social housing race, and for us who work at the whare-front of emergency housing, aligning ourselves with one of them was a no-brainer when they came calling to see how they could help.

Within walking distance of us here in Greerton are 400 of the 1250 homes in the portfolio of properties, and given almost 700 tenants are Maori - many with whom we have established relationships with as they are Maori with no tribal connections to the three iwi of Tauranga Moana - it makes social sense for us to be part of the bidding process.

Just like the recently released from prison, many of our 140 clients who have required emergency housing during the past 12 months are brought here by the same circumstances of no whanau or family - and sadly, nowhere else to go.

Recently, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley made the call that it was time for us to try something new and innovative when it comes to emergency housing and create a greater understanding of what it is like not to have a house to call home.

A call we tautoko (support) at Te Tuinga.

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It is my understanding there are enough homes within the 1250 houses to be transferred to the successful consortium, they just need to be reconfigured to marry up with the demographics of those who need them most.

So what does that mean for the recently released who have nowhere to go?

The biggest challenges for a recently released person are firstly finding somewhere for them to stay until they can get back on their feet and start filling in all of the required forms to find work (if they can read and write). Having a home, once released, could have a huge influence on the 25,000 children in this country who are affected by having a parent in jail.

We have all read the headlines and heard the harrowing stories of family violence, dishonesty and the desperate things desperate people do to try and survive, but we don't hear enough about solutions to these headlines.

Whare4Whanau would be such a solution-based programme, if the horse we are backing is successful.

With half a dozen of the 1250 properties, Whare4Whanau can connect these families back together and start creating community champions instead of community casualties - if we all step in and step up.

Prison reintegration has to be looked at through new lenses if we are to stop reoffending.

If we keep sending these recently released inmates to towns and cities where what they had inside is a life of luxury compared to the nothingness of the outside world, then we will keep building more prisons and another 25,000 tamariki will be a causality of disconnected dads.

Our hope is that the powers who pull the levers down in Parliament will see sense in what social services can do when they team up with a not-for-profit social housing provider, have developed a strong relationship with all three iwi, and who have a long-term focus on meeting social housing needs.

We can't keep locking up lost souls and throwing away the keys. So why not try unlocking some of the 1250 social housing doors and give prisoners a new path to follow once released?


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