Landlord refuses to renew lease for Manurewa community centre

By Bronson Perich

The Waka of Caring community centre has noted a dramatic increase in requests for help.

Debbie ‘Whaea Debs’ Munroe (Ngāti Maniapoto) established the Waka of Caring, after an anonymous donor paid for a two-year lease on its Manurewa premises. It gives out food parcels, clothing, and a listening ear.

“Our (food) parcels have gone from 30 a day to 50 a day,” Debbie Munroe says.

“It’s grown from a small thing to a very big need.”

He waka eke noa

A Waka of Caring volunteer packs a food parcel - Photo / File

Whaea Debs has a simple criteria for those that need help – a smile.

“A smile, that’s the only criteria we have,” Munroe says.

“If we can accommodate their need, they get it. If we can’t accommodate their need, I’ll find it.”

An uncertain future

Since it opened, countless toasties have been served up for manuwhiri at the Waka of Caring - Photo / File

Earlier in the year, Munroe advised Te Ao Māori News that she was hoping to extend her lease. Leasing the empty shop next door would mean she could help more whānau in need.

But Munroe says her landlord wants them out once the two-year lease is up.

“They have an issue with the amount of rubbish we have,” she says.

“But in saying that, we can’t be responsible for people dumping their rubbish."

Whaea Debs says she’ll be hunting for sponsors and a new premises. She’s 95% confident that she'll find a new place.

Working poor

Waka of Caring volunteers sort through donated clothes - Photo / File

Munroe says people from Pukekohe, Tuakau and other areas beyond Manurewa, have come asking for help. Some come in for food, and others for someone to talk to.

Winter means the Waka is giving away 30-40 blankets a day.

“It’s cold out there for our guys,” Munroe says.

“Not only for our homeless but for our whānau in need.”

She says many of the people who come to the Waka actually have a home and are employed.

But the costs of living and low wages mean these people need help.

Whaea Debs 

Whaea Debs and her crew of soup masters - Source / Native Affairs

Debbie Munroe is no stranger to helping the community. She became well-known when eight years ago, she started giving away free soup.

Munroe would cook the soup at home, then she'd lead her crew onto streets, giving away cups of soup as they went.

The Waka of Caring opened this year, and was almost closed down by police during lockdown.

A last-minute intervention meant the Waka was redesignated a community centre, so it could stay open.

The landlord responds

A representative of the landlord spoke with Te Ao Māori News confirmed that the Waka of Caring lease would not be renewed. They claim that complaints had been made regarding cleanliness on the shop front of the premises. They said they had made several requests to the Waka of Caring regarding rubbish and their requests had been ignored.

They ended by saying they are more than happy to continue leasing to Waka of Caring if these issues could be resolved.

Whaea Debs advised Te Ao Māori News the rubbish dumping had occurred long before the Waka of Caring set up shop there. Commercial tenants and residents advised her this was an ongoing and unresolved issue.