Since January 2021, a special employment service has supported 44 former Mid and Far North Government beneficiaries into part-time or fulltime work.
Te Mana Oranga (TMO) operates an Individual Placement Support (IPS) Employment Programme, jointly funded through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Northland DHB.
The pilot programme merges employment and mental health support, creating work pathways for people who've experienced mental health challenges and have historically been excluded from the work market.
This degree of intensive wrap-around support is unprecedented in the Far North.
Hemi Rihari, 37, was in-between jobs since moving from Whangarei to Waipapa at the beginning of the year.
"I've had lots of jobs over the last two years, but they haven't lasted long," Rihari said.
People with mental health conditions in New Zealand are three times more likely to be unemployed, heightening their risk of poverty.
According to Northland DHB, labour force disadvantage is even more significant for Māori experiencing mental health conditions.
Māori enrolled in the programme make up 50 per cent of the successful work placements and as a result, have been experiencing an improvement in equitable outcomes.
"Meaningful and sustainable employment is an essential part of people's wellbeing," Richard Bell, from Northland DHB Mental Health and Addictions Services, said.
Services have previously been unable to engage with clients like Rihari at the level they required, but TMO has worked closely with him to align his employment goals with local work opportunities.
TMO employment coach Travis Sadler said everyone should have equal access to the job market.
"We work with clients to support them, understand their health needs, and match them with an employer who can support that.
"Waste Management has come to the table without preconceptions and allowed Hemi's work to speak for itself."
Waste Management manager Shane Robbertsen said he had seen Rihari's confidence grow every day.
"Hemi has been very reliable, turns up, and does a good job.
"He gets on well with his colleagues and has even picked up work on Saturdays, which means he is being exposed to other areas of the business and expanding his skill set.
Robbertsen encouraged other businesses to think differently about employing people who had experienced mental health challenges.
"The programme shows that, given the opportunity, people with mental health concerns can make reliable and loyal workers," Bell said.
"We're committed to seeking sustainable funding to ensure these services become permanent."
"We know gaining employment can have a huge impact on wellbeing, identity, and mana on a personal level," MSD regional labour market manager Jamie Rosemergy added.
Now in permanent work, Rihari has set himself some financial goals and is putting aside weekly savings.
"I want to get a car so I can get myself to work, and I want to build a small bach on some family land," Rihari said.
The initial success of IPS has led to its extension until December 2022.