Warmer for homeless, safer for women

By Kelvin McDonald

More than 50 long-term homeless in Auckland will have a safe, warm, place to stay after an inner-city hostel providing emergency housing reopened this week after shutting its doors last year because of the dilapidated state of its buildings.

James Liston Hostel in Freemans Bay, which has been providing Auckland's homeless with emergency housing for the past 50 years, reopened on Wednesday after a $5mil renovation saved the premises from closure.

Rooms at the newly refurbished hostel have each been given a "unique touch".  Photo/Supplied.  

Until recently, the hostel had been the only emergency housing provider for the inner-city's homeless.  Operating with limited funding, its premises had fallen into serious disrepair since first opening in 1968.

"It was terrible. The place had gone a long time without any maintenance.  Every winter it would leak through the ceiling.  I'm surprised it never got shut down, it was pretty worn out," says hostel manager, Charlotte Ama.

"The heating was out of date and it just wasn't warm enough.  We really, really needed to keep people warm during winter.  A lot of available space wasn't being utilised either.  The men had to go up and down the stairs just to access the showers," she says.

Te Ao visited the hostel in September 2015 as the then-National government began discussing refurbishing the premises and the city's wider homeless issues came into sharper focus. Source/File.

$2mil from Auckland Council, another $2.05mil from Housing New Zealand and funds raised from other sources made it possible for the hostel to undergo a complete refresh and expand its capacity from 45 to 55 beds. 

Building work to renovate the hostel began in July 2018, with residents and staff returning in February this year while the last of the refurbishments were completed.

Ama says the residents remained positive during the build, although it wasn't the best situation, "They were just happy the place was getting done up but it was tough for them as well."

With a bit of ingenuity, the hostel was able to continue providing beds for 30 to 40 people throughout the whole build.  Up to 18 beds were made available at Housing NZ's nearby Greys Ave premises and the hostel also collaborated with Auckland City Mission to allow residents to spend their daytime hours there. 

New windows give residents a brighter view.  Photo/Supplied.

Now that the hostel is fully operational again, it's a much safer and more welcoming environment for residents.

Fresh, bright interiors aim to encourage residents to feel welcome. Photo/Supplied.

"There's swipe entrance to all bedrooms and bathrooms and a separate wing for women.  It's made it safer for women, the top floor is all women," says Ama. 

Swipe-card entry to rooms, toilets and showers and a separate women's wing helps provide greater safety for residents.  Photo/Supplied.

There's also wider scope to support diversity in the new premises.

"James Liston is one of the most rainbow friendly places.  Transwomen go onto that floor with the women.  We strategically place people so they're safe," she says.

The hostel says 'people with least deserve the best'.  Photo/Supplied.

The hostel says it's important residents feel valued and acknowledged and that the refurbishment supports "our ethos of giving people who have the least, the best”.

James Liston Hostel provides emergency housing for up to twelve weeks for men and women and helps residents access specialist support with the goal of supporting them into sustainable long term housing.