Do something good: The People’s Project

Homelessness is a growing issue in New Zealand and in Hamilton they are doing something about it. Their goal is to ensure Hamilton doesn’t have a homeless population by the end of the year. Management asked Julie Nelson of Wise Group how the project worked.

What is the aim of the project?
We have an ambitious goal – Hamilton will not have a homeless population by the end of 2016.

Who is behind it?
Key organisations such as Hamilton City Council, Wise Group, New Zealand Police, Ministry of Social Development, Child, Youth and Family, Housing New Zealand, Department of Corrections, Waikato District Health Board, Midlands Health, Hamilton Central Business Association and Te Puni Ko-kiri are working together to end homelessness in Hamilton. We have people at the governance level who can change the system, and frontline staff with the necessary skills to support people in some complex situations. Leaders in their respective organisations were pivotal in the project’s success. They not only provided support to the project but were able to explore ways to do things differently in their organisations.

How did the project begin and what is Wise Group’s involvement?
The seeds of The People’s Project were sown in 2013 when the Mayor of Hamilton City held a meeting to explore ways to improve city safety and look into the issue of homelessness, which was increasingly becoming a bigger issue for the city. This meeting and others that followed highlighted the fact that the existing approaches were not effective and that efforts needed to involve multi agencies and be more coordinated and collaborative.

“The success of the People’s Project comes from the strength of the partnership amongst the providers and the leadership they show,” Mayor Julie Hardaker said.
Leading The People’s Project is Julie Nelson, chief executive of the Wise Group. The Wise Group has funded four staff members to the project, including Julie, the Waikato DHB has social workers assigned to the project, and the Hamilton City Council pays the rent on the office the project works from. Many other organisations are also involved as needed.

How successful have you been in getting homeless people housed so far?
The People’s Project has supported 145 individuals and families into their own homes since it began in September 2014 and more than 90 percent are still in their homes.

More than 80 percent of people we work with found private accommodation. Approximately 10 per cent secured a Housing New Zealand house and the other 10 percent found a home with other social housing providers.

How does it work, where do the houses come from? How are you funded?
The team works directly with homeless people to connect them with accommodation, income and other support services they may need to help restore them to independent living. The People’s Project has adopted the Housing First model.

New Zealand’s homeless service sector is not currently government funded. The project’s work to date has been funded by grants from local charitable organisations and through the generous donation of resources, including staff, from partner organisations. We are seeking ongoing funding and would welcome support.

[As Management went to press, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett announced details of a $2 million contribution to increasing the emergency housing supply in Auckland.]

Is this based on an overseas model?
The Housing First model has been successful in Canada, the USA and the United Kingdom. It recognises that it is easier for people to address the issues that led to their homelessness, such as mental health issues and addiction, once they are housed.

The priority is to quickly move people into appropriate housing and then immediately provide wrap-around services to address the issues that led to their homelessness. Permanent, secure, appropriate, safe housing is recognised as a basic human right.

What is the guiding philosophy behind the project?
We never give up.

For the benefit of everyone who calls Hamilton home, we will change the system, create solutions, make housing for vulnerable people a priority, and end homelessness in Hamilton.

Is it being done anywhere else around NZ?
People from around New Zealand are interested in the project. We have hosted people interested in the project and continue to share what we have learnt. We believe everyone in New Zealand should be well housed.

How has it changed their lives?
You can’t underestimate the impact having a home has on people. It is so much more than just a roof over their heads. Being without a home can start a snowball effect that can completely degrade a person’s self-worth.

One person we’ve helped was a health care worker in a highly respected job before becoming homeless. He described himself as a loving father and partner. Through a series of unfortunate events that could easily happen to any of us, he lost his house and his job, disconnected from his family, and slept on the streets of Hamilton. He told us his self-worth plummeted to an all-time low. The People’s Project helped him find a lovely new apartment, helped him furnish his new home, and connected him with the medical support he needed. He’s now a different person. He’s very house proud, and has a lovely garden. He’s still working through some of the issues that led him to the street, but he is a very different person to the man that first came our doors asking for help.

Sam Tsemberis, founder of The Housing First Model is quoted as saying “Going from homelessness into a home changes a person’s psychological identity from outcast to member of the community.” Project staff often comment about how having a roof over someone’s head instantly changes someone’s whole demeanour. It’s physical. People hold their heads up higher, as if they’re happy to be seen, instead of often wanting to be invisible. It’s wonderful to witness.

Our readers are senior leaders in the corporate sector – how could companies help the project?
People who have been homeless often have very few personal possessions so we help them set up their home with furniture and other household goods at no cost to them.

We’d welcome financial donations or new household items so we can assist people to create a home. Individuals or companies are invited to sponsor a key household item by either supplying the item or the funds for us to buy the item.

A full list of items we need is listed on our website You can also contact us on 07 857 1590 or [email protected]

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