There was excitement at the Auckland City Mission on Wednesday and it wasn't all because Jacinda Ardern had turned up to announce more beds for drug and alcohol detox.

Those beds will be on the third and fourth floors of a building that doesn't yet exist. But it soon will. More than 10 years after City Missioner Diane Robertson unveiled her dream of a new multi-storey block on Hobson St to cater for people living on the streets, it's finally about to happen.

This is great for Auckland's rough sleepers and it's great for the city, and not just because of the extra beds. The project will allow the mission to provide integrated, wraparound services for some of the city's most vulnerable people. There's good science behind the approach and the outcomes are likely to be long term.

Stevens Lawson Architects won a competition to design the Mission HomeGround complex on Hobson St back in 2007. But the global financial crisis got in the way.


In 2015, after years of slow funding progress and no building progress at all, Robertson retired from the mission. There were fears the project would disappear with her. But architect Nick Stevens was at the pōwhiri for the new city missioner, Chris Farrelly, next door at St Matthew-in-the-City, and he got in Farrelly's ear.

It wasn't a hard sell: Farrelly was keen to get the thing built and told him so. Then in August 2017 the National-led Government pumped in an extra $18 million and the City Mission felt confident enough to announce the project would start by the middle of the following year. But they were still $40 million – more than half – short of the estimated $75 million cost.

Foundation North was the next to sign up, with a $10 million grant, the largest in its 30-year history, announced in October last year.

The new detox beds have added a floor to the design and that's helped push the cost to $85 million. But with Ardern announcing an extra $16.5 million for the detox unit, Farrelly says the mission now has $66 million committed. A new campaign to secure the balance, focusing on funding agencies and philanthropists, will be launched shortly.

The City Mission will vacate the site in September and demolition of the existing buildings will begin straight away. It's all on.

So what's so special about this new complex? The underlying programme is known as Housing First. It says if you're going to help people who need a home, you start by putting them into that home and you make sure you provide the services and environment they need to live there.

There are no conditions: a rough sleeper doesn't have to be "sober" or "approved" before being allocated a place. They get to choose what help they need, with providers taking a proactive and supportive approach. Social services are backed by community integration and reconnection with whānau and learning opportunities.

Housing First doesn't manage chronic homelessness. It aims to eliminate it. At the City Mission, they talk about an 88 per cent success rate.


Often, the process starts with detox. Mission HomeGround will have 30 detox beds, half again as many as the City Mission currently provides in Auckland. They'll replace the 10 currently at Hobson St and the 10 more at Pitman House in Pt Chevalier. All in one place, with health and community services on site as well.

There's a kind of "move up, move down" concept in play. People taken in at Mission HomeGround might start in detox, then move up to live in one of the 80 units on the five floors above, while also moving down to the care of the health centre below.

In addition to accommodation for 110 people, the complex will house a community centre with commercial kitchen, meeting and activity rooms, social workers on site, a cafe, art gallery, gym and a rooftop garden. The medical centre will include dental and mental health services.

The building itself will feature a grand tukutuku-inspired frontage and become an appealing addition to the street.

Housing First isn't new. The approach was developed in the US in the 1980s and is used to help the chronically homeless in many other countries. Some European programmes report astonishing success rates: 98 per cent in Vienna, 97 per cent in Amsterdam and 94 per cent in Copenhagen.

In New Zealand the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Health and the district health boards already support a Housing First programme in Auckland: by March 31 it had housed 215 homeless people or families. There are also government-funded programmes in Hamilton, Christchurch, Tauranga and Wellington, and this year they'll start in Rotorua, Northland, Napier/Hastings and Nelson/Marlborough.

Ardern said on Wednesday that she was pleased to be "giving glory" to the agencies involved. She described Housing First as a "model of care" and said, "I want this government to be known for compassion, kindness and community building".

But one of the best things about Housing First is that it's not party political. National was committed to it too.

And so is Heart of the City, the central-city business group. Its chief executive, Viv Beck, says it is "100 per cent" behind Housing First and the Mission HomeGround project.

"Ending homelessness is vital," she says. "Housing First is an example of collaboration at its best – public, private and the not-for-profit sectors are behind one goal and one solution. And we can't wait to see the new HomeGround facility up and running, it can't happen soon enough."

Turns out water hoses and obnoxious music are not the key to helping rough sleepers find somewhere better than shop doorways to spend the night. Turns out pretty much everyone's on board with a plan that does work. It's such good news.

There's a whakataukī, a proverb, carved on a slab of wood at the City Mission. Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi. With your basket and my basket, the people will live.

Right now, they really mean it. It's winter, there are mouths to feed and care packages to hand out and the City Mission needs our help. You can find out how at