Have I been cynical about the commercialisation of Valentine's Day in the past? Probably, but this year the day marks the first anniversary of a special man in my life so I'm feeling the love.
My wish is that everyone gets to have this sort of love in their lives – the sort that builds you up and strengthens you, rather than wears you down or knocks your self-belief. It's pretty awesome to have a mutual admiration society of two members happening at home these days.
Beyond romantic love, this Valentine's I also wish for security and stability in loving homes for our children. The release of the annual State of the Nation report by the Salvation Army shows that it isn't the case for all households in New Zealand.
As one of the speakers at the launch event Professor Tracey McIntosh said, "we can't keep wasting our children" – we're wasting their potential, particularly for Māori and those in financially-poor areas, whether it's educational achievement, imprisonment rates, suicide or children in state care – and these factors are connected.
But as McIntosh said, the repetition of statistics can be violent in itself. There is a risk of normalising the gaps that exist in our society. It can reduce the potential for and belief in change. We can't let that happen with yet another presentation of the facts around the deep hardship in our communities.
Thankfully, the Sallies' report, entitled Are You Well? Are We Safe?, does have glimpses of hope. There's an acknowledgement of a growing kindness in stop-gap services, although the increasing level of hardship grants points to an obvious truth that the basic benefit is not sufficient to stay warm in winter and get through any normal rocky patches like costs associated with a car breaking down or school stationery orders.
For me, being well and being safe should be absolute minimums – things that we guarantee for all in our society. I aspire for more for us and our neighbours.
And of these basics, what's happening with housing is critical. Whanganui is going through a boom with property price. There are positives in this. I like that our fair town has had a change in reputation and we're getting an influx of people who appreciate this place. I like the increase in local spending and the creation of new jobs. I like seeing houses being renovated.
But of course it brings challenges too. The rent increases are creating real pressures and pushing home ownership further away for some. A friend of mine messaged this week desperate to find a home for her family. She's even looking as far afield as Palmerston North to find something, anything.
However, I welcome the recent decision to have Whanganui welcome refugees. I'm excited that we get to share our beautiful home town with people restarting their lives. The research shows refugees create opportunities where they settle, and they won't be arriving unless they have a place to stay.
Still on the housing front, I want to lift our sights beyond affordable – we need houses that don't make people sick. Unfortunately, brand new houses built to the current Building Code can still end up damp, cold and mouldy. This needs to change to improve the quality of our lives, reduce carbon emissions and save unnecessary impacts on the health system.
Housing also ties directly into the growing inequality in our country, due in part to the lack of tax on profit from housing speculation. Green Party co-leader James Shaw this week said it was time for a fairer system. He was quoted in the NZ Herald as saying: "It's patently unfair and it creates all sorts of distortions in the economy and it traps people in poverty to have a system where people who work for a living pay tax on their income and people who flick houses don't."
The Salvation Army's report by Alan Johnson is brilliantly written, succinct and worth reading. There are murmurings of positive change and I'm excited to be involved in a small piece, a new Ministry of Social Development initiative, The Generator. More on that soon. Meanwhile, the final word to American author Margaret Wheatley: "There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about."
Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council, works for Te Kaahui o Rauru and leads a new social enterprise hub, Thrive Whanganui. A mum of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member.