“The dream that’s driving VisionWest is the same as it’s always been – it was birthed out of a desire by a church to respond to the real needs in their community. That’s what drove us to set up our very first enterprise all those years ago – a drop-in centre at the local railway station.
“Our heart for people in West Auckland and beyond remains the same, only now we’ve diversified and we’re connecting with people in so many different ways.
“Particularly now that we have the Whanau Centre, people come onto the campus and very soon get the impression that there are friendly faces here – someone willing to take the time to sit down with them and hear about their journey.
“It’s about really listening and not just doing an assessment of their needs. We have some remarkably good social workers who bring people out of their shell and into a place of trust and sharing.
“We’ve recently signed our name to a brand new Government-funded initiative called ‘Housing First’. It’s for people who have been homeless for a long time and who are facing an uphill battle.
“When you’ve been homeless for a while, your circle of contacts socially will also have broken down, and there’s good evidence from studies that until people have a decent roof over their head, so many other things tend to remain problematical for them.
“There may be employment problems, addictions and all sorts of relationship issues. We say, OK, let’s get you into a house first with the right supports, then we can start addressing other things. We’re doing this in collaboration with three other providers.
“This whole concept has been well researched – get the housing right and other things start improving.
“We’ll work with private landlords: VisionWest will hold the head lease and manage the tenancies. A Government agency will subsidise the rent, landlords will get a rental guarantee and we’ll come in with other supports those families might need..
I am anticipating great progress as we adopt this approach to housing; it will bring about generational change for some families who have been struggling with accommodation for a long time.
“Now we have taken over the Salvation Army home care business in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato we are starting to get connected with those communities and seeing what more we might be able to offer in those areas.
“People are leaving Auckland for the provinces so there’s pressure on housing stock there and the vulnerable get pushed out to the margins, so there’s definitely room for us to see if we can improve things there by exploring whether we can be involved in housing and other initiatives.
“The other project we’re very excited about is the idea of a youth housing centre on some currently vacant land on our campus. One of the ideas is housing for young single mums for a couple of years, getting them wrap-around support with budgeting and other things so they are equipped for more independent living.
“Eventually we’d hope they could sustain a tenancy on their own. We’re aiming to build a big campaign around this idea – we’ll bring in potential funding partners and really promote the concept.
“Our challenge now is to refine the processes we’ve embarked on in the last year or so – to make sure the Whanau Centre concept is well supported and running smoothly.
“The results I am hearing back from Josh and the team are encouraging. I hear stories of people coming in whose heads are down and morale is low and the transformation in their demeanour after dealing with our staff changes completely.
“When we approach our next funding round for the Whanau Centre we’ll bring in multiple funding and philanthropic groups and sell the idea of some partnerships so we’ve got several sources plugging in to the mix.
“We’re excited about our future and the future of those we are passionate about helping.”