WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Collaborating for better conditions for the homeless

Cecily McNeill

A wet shelter for people whose intoxicated state keeps them out of the night shelter is one project which brings the Compassion Centre to work with other agencies in the city in an ‘exciting’ collaboration.

Project Margin was established with the Compassion Centre, the Downtown Community Ministry and the Peoples’ Resource Centre to look at ways to address homelessness in the city.

A wet shelter would take in people who are drunk, or who don’t want to leave their drink outside, or who are on drugs and likely to cause a problem for people in the night shelter.

Staff at the shelter would have a harm reduction approach rather than an absence approach and would also have people in place who, when a person decided that they wanted to change, would give them the opportunity but not force a change.

‘It’s just a way to get them out of the cold,’ says Sr Margaret Mary.

‘We think there needs to be link between the wet shelter and the night shelter and the WCC and Housing New Zealand, to provide supported accommodation answering specific needs. This could be smaller places that can take in some of those on the street at the moment and help them to grow in the skills they need to stay for a two-year period before being able to successfully live in their own flat. Off the street and into a flat is too much of a leap for many people.’

Sr Margaret Mary says people are looking only at problems.

‘I can understand what it’s like if you’ve got people who are homeless and drinking around places like Cuba Mall. Until we get other places where they are welcome and can be helped, this will be what happens. They’ll just move around the streets and in and out of jail.’

Project Margin is based at Downtown Community Ministry, which has housed around 90 people.

In its mission to address the homelessness issue, the inter-agency group has contacted a number of people from the public health area and from the district health board, the police, Work and Income, Housing New Zealand, Wellington City Council housing, and Te Aro Health Centre and this group now meets regularly.

Project Margin has four subgroups, one of which works on promoting the need for a wet shelter.

Another subgroup is looking at a reintegration of prisoners and having programmes operating in the prison before people move out.

‘This is a really important area because discharged prisoners often go back onto the street to the same group of people doing the same thing and before they know it, they’re back in jail. Many of our people are revolving doors,’ says Sr Margaret Mary.

The third subgroup is looking at services, particularly drug and alcohol services, ‘which are appropriately available to people like those that we see. Rather than requiring people to attend a hospital for an appointment, the city needs new ways of delivering services for people who don’t carry diaries, haven’t got watches, and don’t know what day it is.’

The closing of a lot of drug and alcohol services throughout the country several years ago has left a huge hole.

‘Places like Hanmer where they had a fabulous staff of trained, experienced people – it’s really tragic. So we need appropriate provision of services.’

The fourth subgroup is looking at providing drop-in places where there are services available during the day.

‘It’s taking a while to get results because we really need to do the basics well and to get policies in place so we that good ideas can be easily implemented. That’s very exciting for us. We’ve been in this area for some time.’

This is already addressing areas that have never been looked at inter-sectorally.

‘Already Project Margin is making a huge difference and there are other agencies like ourselves who are supporting some of those people, particularly long-term homeless people who are successfully housed,’ says Sr Margaret Mary.