How does it feel to spend a year in your own rental home after more than two decades living on the streets?

"It's a lot of work, now I know what it's like to have bills," Auckland resident Aroha jokes to an audience gathered at a recent fundraising dinner for Methodist Church support group Lifewise.

Then she pauses, and says it's amazing to watch her new home grow with her belongings.

"It blows me away just to see how far I've come," she said in explaining to the 160 dinner guests why a programme called Housing First Auckland works.


Aroha spent her first night on the streets aged 11 and had never had a place to call her own until June last year.

It was then she was given a quiet inner-city rental as one of the first 22 clients of Housing First.

Launched in March last year, the programme places homeless directly into houses before dealing with any mental health or addiction issues, and its success has led it to be quickly rolled out to more rough sleepers.

It has now found homes for 420 people, who had been living on the streets, including 193 children, and achieved its goal of keeping at least 85 per cent in permanent houses after one year.

Run by a series of support groups across the city, the initiative is also backed by Auckland Council, which puts in about $500,000 a year.

Aroha accesses Housing First through Lifewise, which runs the programme in the inner city in partnership with Auckland City Mission.

She credits it with differing from other programmes in that it does more than just give people a roof over their heads.

It also helps them stay in their homes by providing support to manage their tenancies, address health needs and achieve goals.


This can include having property managers remind those in the programme to pay the rent on time annd keep their home clean, and social workers accompany them to doctors' appointments and help them connect to fun community events.

Aroha, one of the first women to be housed by the Housing First programme, has now spent one year in her home. Photo / Fiona Goodall
Aroha, one of the first women to be housed by the Housing First programme, has now spent one year in her home. Photo / Fiona Goodall

The rental homes are found by the Airedale Property Trust, a sister charity to Lifewise that manages the Methodist Church's properties.

Despite Auckland's housing market being tight, Airedale has been able to work with city real estate agents to find private landlords willing to rent their properties to Housing First tenants.

The trust guarantees to pay the rent on time, provide "intensive tenancy management and regular inspections" and to cover any damage to properties.

For Aroha, it is these wrap-around services that have helped her navigate the intricacies of renting and paying the bills, and left her with more time to get other parts of her life back on track.

Where as she once slept under a tree from where she could hear the Auckland Street Choir practice in a nearby church, she is now a member of the choir.

She also helps lead a women's group at the charity and has completed an Active Citizen social leadership course with the British Council.

This led her to declare to guests at Lifewise's recent dinner that she only plans to keep "going forward" from here.

"What's next for me is to help rest of my whanau that is still stuck on the streets," she said.

"I'm going to stay in there until I've got all my family off the street."