Not all 'homeless' are actually homeless - Hurimoana Dennis

By Bronson Perich
Cabins at Te Puea marae - Photo / File

Community services coordinator Hurimoana Dennis says the roots of homelessness among Māori go back to the 1800s. 

To that end, he's part of a Waitangi Tribunal claim, which he hopes will fix the problem.

"If you're looking at homelessness' origins, they really come from the 1800s," Dennis says.

"It's got huge colonisation implications inside that."

Hurimoana Dennis in front of the cabins at Te Puea Marae - Photo / File

Dennis says homelessness cannot be viewed by itself. It must be seen as one of many problems an individual or whānau are going through.

“Homelessness is just another little haki, for a whole lot of other things that haven’t been going well for whānau,”

The government splits homelessness into three categories. First is without shelter, second is in temporary accommodation, and third sharing accommodation.

But Hurimoana Dennis dismisses this approach, calling it a "simplistic view".

“I think it’s a typical bureaucratic view of what homelessness is but at the front end of the business it looks quite different.

Not all 'homeless' homeless

The marae-atea of Te Puea marae - Photo / File

Te Puia marae has taken a different approach.

“We’ve got three categories too,” Dennis says.

“One is those who really need help – desperately homeless. Then there are those that find themselves in a bind at the moment, temporarily, just needing support.”

The last category is people who are "not even homeless, just looking for an upgrade".

"Some of our whānau are flouting the system," Dennis says.

They'll be assessed, then the whānau won't return for weeks on end. In the meantime, the cabin allocated at Te Puia marae for them is empty. 

"In the meantime, we've got families turning up at the marae, clearly homeless, clearly pōhara," Dennis says.

"We can't help them because all we've got is a booked but empty cabin."

Improving social housing model 

Chickens at Te Puea Marae - Photo / File

It’s Dennis’ view that resources spent on helping this third group are resources better spent on helping the first two groups. He acknowledges the government funding aimed at combatting homelessness, and says the model needs to be refined.

“There is about 70 percent worth of money, resources, mandate and law, sitting with the Crown agencies,” Dennis says.

The remaining 30 percent, he says, comes from agencies on the ground, “about 30 percent of innovation, front-end experience, manpower, and cultural expertise on the community side.

It’s Dennis’ position that this imbalance needs to be addressed. If not, he says, the money "won’t go far enough".

492 whānau later ...

"We've put 492 whānau into homes," Dennis says.

The experience of putting hundreds of whānau into homes has given Te Puea marae some unique insights.

One of those insights is to do with those sleeping rough on the streets.

"That is a trauma/mental health-related issue," Dennis says.

"They need help before they need a home. Putting them into a home isn't going to help them."