VisionWest CEO, Lisa Woolley, was recently interviewed as part of a series on Shine TV in which six Christian Leaders from around New Zealand gave in-depth interviews talking about issues facing New Zealand today. When asked about social challenges facing our nation, Lisa singled out three key issues. In this article Lisa shares her thoughts on these concerns.
Every New Zealander should have safe, healthy affordable housing; the lack of housing is one of the major issues facing New Zealand today.
On the housing register, there are currently over 20,000 families who are in desperate need of housing. With this level of homelessness in our nation, we need to ask serious questions about what can be done to ensure houses are being built, and how we can ensure people have access to affordable housing.
People sometimes ask about state housing. In New Zealand, state housing forms a good backbone for people who require social housing but it’s not enough. I firmly believe that, alongside state housing, we need to continue to grow the community housing sector of which VisionWest is a part.
Only through strategic community housing programmes can we end homelessness in New Zealand. Such programmes have a number of positives. First, they bring much needed housing stock into the housing market. Second, with income-related rents, whereby people pay a maximum of 25% of their income on accommodation, suitable housing becomes more affordable for whānau. Finally, there is the added advantage of tenants being a part of a support structure which journeys alongside them to maximise the potential of a sustained tenancy.
There is no quick answer, but by being strategic and through growing our community housing stock, we can, over time, relieve the chronic housing shortage that exists in New Zealand today.
COVID has highlighted the precarious nature of the personal finances of many New Zealanders. Prior to COVID, between 250 and 300 whānau were accessing the VisionWest Pātaka Kai food support each week. Through COVID, this grew significantly to the point where, during COVID Alert Level 4 lockdown, we were delivering food parcels to up to 1,200 whānau per week. After initially dropping back to about 500, this has risen again to currently sit at around 700 per week.
What this shows is that, while the immediate health crisis is waning, the aftermath of COVID has left many people struggling, particularly in the area of money. We have observed that the face of need is changing and people who once felt financially secure, are now finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Two distinct factors have come together to cause this—the high cost of housing and the presence of relatively low incomes. For some people, the low-income aspect is historical. For others, however, this is a new phenomenon as many have either lost jobs or are facing a cut in their weekly wage packet.
The issue of hungry families is not a new one, but it is hitting a new demographic. People who have always held steady jobs and have no understanding of the machinations of WINZ are now finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to access a benefit or social supports through a system they are totally unfamiliar with. We have even experienced people who once donated to our Pātaka Kai now coming to us to request food.
This is one reason why we would advocate for the living wage. In New Zealand today, we see people working a number of jobs just to ensure their children have the basics—food and housing. This puts undue stress on families and family relationships. Having an income level that provides people with sufficient money to enable them to have food, housing and day to day living costs is absolutely critical. These critical living costs must include enough for children to go to school and engage in society like any other child; which brings me to my final point, employment.
Training and Employment
VisionWest works in the training space with a view to preparing people for employment. We believe a traditional skills-based education is crucial, but it’s not enough.
People need to be supported into employment, especially if employment is new to them. This involves much more than a traditional model of education. Supporting an individual into employment is about walking alongside them as a mentor as they prepare their CV and job application, go through the interview process and, move into that role. It includes helping the participant learn about what it takes to be a good employee and other aspects of employment that many of us take for granted, such as, turning up to work on time, or how to relate to the boss and others at work.
Sometimes I’ve been asked if unemployment is the fault of the people or the system. I try to look at the with realistic eyes. The fact is, we live within a system, so let’s first make sure we have the levers set right so that system enables people to thrive. A big part of that is creating a climate where people have access to the things we’ve talked about, housing, food and employment. Once a person is in receipt of these things, then we can look at the supports each individual needs to thrive in life.
One of the questions people often bring up is, “VisionWest is doing a great job, but why are you doing it? Isn’t it the Government’s job? Are you working with the Government or replacing the Government?”
I like to see the care of vulnerable whānau as a partnership. It’s true, a nation’s government has a responsibility to its people but we also, as a faith-based organisation, have a responsibility, that of walking alongside and journeying with people.
Our mission statement is, “Building Hope Together,” and we believe that that is a partnership. While it’s the Government’s role to ensure people have housing, food and employment, our role is that we can draw alongside people and walk closely with them to ensure they are able to access the support that is available to help them through life and bring a life transformation to them and their whānau.
Finally, we must never forget, throughout New Zealand, there are many organisations providing food, housing, and other supports in the same way VisionWest does. What we need to consider is, “How can I, as an individual, help these vulnerable whānau?”
The answer is to ask, “Who needs my help?” and then do something tangible to answer that question. That could be going to a group’s website and donating money, or it could be volunteering time. The important thing is that we do something.
You can view Lisa’s Shine TV interview here (free website registration is required).