'Are you the JP?" the woman walking beside me asks as we approach the Citizens Advice Bureau in the Mangere Town Centre.
The question makes me chuckle before I realise that, even though I'm in jeans, my newish shoes and tweed jacket pass for smart in this neck of the woods.
The Town Centre is deserted, but the CAB is full and everyone looks up expectantly as I open the door. Around here, middle-aged Pakeha are more likely to be dispensing the help these folk are here for than seeking some of their own.
What I'm looking for is along the corridor, behind a door marked Pacific Island Budgeting Service.
Here, in a spartan office with a staff of three, Vai Harris is picking over the bank statements of a Samoan couple. She's noticed a discrepancy in a finance company's interest charges and she's blown the whistle on the husband making contributions to his pitifully small KiwiSaver account - "it's no use putting money into KiwiSaver when the bills are overdue", she explains.
The couple have run up some nasty debts to the operators of trucks that cruise the streets of South Auckland offering goods on instant credit. The goods - and the money they'll lend you to buy them - are extortionately priced and if customers fall behind on the payments, penalty interest soon has them in a morass of debt.
"They really target Pacific Island people because they think it's okay," says Harris. "It's not okay."
The trackpants the wife paid $90 for cost $20 at a discount store and $2 at an op shop. "You have to live within your means," Harris tells her. "The trucks won't put a roof over your head when you can't pay your rent."
There are 900 clients on Harris' books. She set up shop to work with Pacific clients only, but need creates a multi-ethnic client base now and many of them have no choice but to use the door-to-door salesmen and their instant credit.
"It's the only way they can survive, because after paying the rent - it's about $450 for a three-bedroom in Mangere - there's hardly any money left."
I've come to see Harris to gauge the possible impact of the low- and no-interest loan schemes announced by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett last week. The schemes, to be piloted in Manukau and Henderson, will provide "Step-Up" loans of up to $5000 at 6.99 per cent for up to three years and no-interest loans of up to $1000 over 18 months.
It's an appealing prospect when unscrupulous lenders' rates start at 30 per cent. The Government refuses to enforce limits - the argument seems to be that the maximum will become the default - though changes to consumer finance laws require greater disclosure and put the onus on lenders to be sure a loan will not cause financial hardship.
Perhaps predictably, Harris is sceptical about the new plan which, she tells me, patches up an edge of the problem and is, in any case, not new. Budgeting services have organised similar schemes through Kiwibank since 2011. What is more, the new scheme is only for people who are not already in debt - for example, to buy a car so they can get to a job.
In that sense, it is a different "product" - to use the finance-biz vocabulary - though it will do nothing for families already mired in debt to backstreet usurers.
Over at the Salvation Army's South Auckland Community Ministries office near Manukau City, they're still getting their heads around the detail of the new scheme, which they alone will administer. The programme is designed "to help those who are trying to get ahead", budget adviser Yvonne Challis tells me, "but most who arrive here are in terrible trouble".
"It's a good programme," service manager Ross Richards allows, "and we'll take it and run with it. We'll do anything we can for our people."
He's too polite to do more than smile when I wonder whether the timing of the announcement suggests that the poor make great campaign material. But back in Mangere, Vai Harris is not.
"The minimum wage is not good enough. If they lifted the wages up, I think people would be able to survive. But the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer all the time.
"That's what I wanted to ask Paula Bennett at the announcement last week, but she said 'We're having a cup of tea now'."