Rotorua churches unite to help the city's homeless

By Mānia Clarke

Waka Whakamua is a newly formed collective of Rotorua community groups and churches who aim to make more of an impact working together to help the city's homeless.  Two local churches have been providing shelter and mentoring rough sleepers for some time.

Rotorua is one of the country's popular tourist destinations with the second highest number of homeless.

For the last five years, Maranatha Baptist Church has opened its doors and car park to provide a safe haven for the city's rough sleepers.

“We just tell them drive here, we turn the lights on and they park up here and sleep for the night,” said community liaison, Iwi Te Whau.

“Why we bring them here, is it's off the road, nobody knows that they're here and it's a private space just have a rest. On an average day we might get four to five cars. Or it be the same car that stays for a couple of nights.”

Likewise, Ascend Church has also been a place of refuge for many struggling whānau.

“You know they've tried everything,” said mentor, Susan Geyde.

“I think that at some point they know this is a safe place where they can get help. It's important that they know they are accepted and loved. We try to create that family feel.”

Senior Pastor, Scotty Clifford said, “Mentoring people who have found themselves homeless through no fault of their own.”

“Bringing them into transitional housing and then giving them a hand up and getting them into permanent housing and employment.”

Maranatha and Ascend along with five other groups make up the faith-based (Te Roopuu Haahi) services under Waka Whakamua. Launched over a month ago to deliver much needed help with financial backing from the government.

“Churches do a huge amount of work in this space,” said Waka Whakamua facilitator, Israel Hawkins.

“They know who the rough sleepers are, the families sleeping in cars with their children.”

Te Whau says they also make church office available to the whānau.

“In here we sleep families that may no necessarily fit all into the car. And we just want to provide another space for them. So we clear this room away and lay down the mattresses. Yeah, marae styles.”

The faith-based groups plan to work with twenty whānau helping them into transitional housing by the end of the year.