How do I summarise the impact of the Housing First programme in just a few hundred words? An internationally renowned approach, Housing First caters for people who have been homeless for over a year and VisionWest are responsible for its operation in West Auckland. By removing the ‘housing readiness criteria’ used by other housing programmes, Housing First focuses on finding a home for people in need before sending in the services necessary for rehabilitation.
Housing First is run according to five key principles. These are immediate access to housing, self-determination, a recovery-oriented approach, client-driven support, and community integration. This programme is designed to support the chronically homeless through the difficulties where other housing programmes often fail them, beginning with the removal housing criteria. In other housing programmes, clients must go through emergency shelter placement and transitional housing before receiving a permanent home. With each step on this ladder, there are new government criteria to be met, and without the necessary support, many clients regress back to chronic homelessness. This is why Housing First incorporates social workers into their programme, supporting the client’s needs and interests once they have moved into their new home.
At VisionWest, Brook Turner is Head of Community Services Development, or in his own words, “I support the people who support the people”. These people include the tenancy managers and social workers who are a part of the Housing First programme, as well as those looking for rental properties which VisionWest will use to house clients. As I speak with Brook about Housing First, I am blown away by the heart he has for helping the homeless in our community. His dream for organisations such as VisionWest is that they will lead the change in New Zealand society, and strive towards a world where homelessness can be eradicated. Brook sees the individuals behind the statistics, feeding his passion to provide people with more than just a house. This is more than just a job; it’s an attitude which drives his outlook on life. It’s the reason why, each morning, he asks himself what he would want VisionWest’s goals to be should his own daughter be chronically homeless.
Thus far, VisionWest has housed thirteen whanau with a view to reaching fifty by the end of the year. Brook has seen first-hand the success resulting from the Housing First programme. For clients who had previously been living in tents or cars, homelessness had led to depression, insomnia and anxiety. Now secure in permanent housing, these people have found hope, expressing aspirations to study, work, learn to drive, and be creative.
As Brook says, these people are “the sons and daughters of New Zealand,” and how we treat our homeless population reflects who we are as a nation. With Housing First up and running in West Auckland, VisionWest is leading the way for positive change, bringing hope to those in need.