Lifeline provided to homeless and struggling whānau in lockdown

Published on Friday, 24 April 2020

Homelessness, affording newborn baby supplies or struggling to pay for power are some of the issues keeping Ngāti Kahungunu Whānau Services flat out supporting Wellington’s most vulnerable during COVID-19.

“We have been moving people that were living in tents, in cars, sleeping rough and all sorts, into housing. There’s also been lots of severe overcrowding,” says Kahungunu Whānau Services CEO Ali Hamlin-Paenga.

Te Puni Kōkiri funding from the Government’s Whānau Māori Community and Marae Response Fund has helped the Wellington service provide whānau with essentials like food deliveries and pay for power bills, mobile phones and data top-ups.

The wrap-around social support Ali’s team deliver includes helping whānau with chronic health conditions, drug and alcohol addictions, and supporting those in intergenerational homes (from babies to 80 year olds) to stay safe.

“The number of food deliveries have tripled since week one. We are supplying hygiene packs as incomes don’t allow for basic hygiene products, and this includes packs for newborn babies.”

“It’s about eliminating risk, but Māori must receive a  high level of support and priority care because of the complex health needs our people carry,” Ali says.

The frontline Kahungunu team found that the lockdown exposed more homelessness, but they are pleased they could house 50 homeless families.

Ali says that a lot of whānau are also in cramped living conditions with 15 people living together in a 3-bedroom home, which brings about different pressures.

“Many of our whānau lost their part time jobs which meant they were unable to pay power and rent. We have been supporting them to access the available payment options, including the Te Puni Kōkiri support, and this has contributed to reducing stress levels.”

We’ve also been trying for home internet connections but that’s not been available so mobile data has been the way to go,” she says.

Acting Regional Manager for Te Puni Kōkiri (Te Tai Hauāuru), Jennie Smeaton says it is essential we provide for Māori that need our support the most.

“The important work of Ali and her team demonstrates how vital these services are and across the country whānau, iwi and Māori organisations have been resolute in protecting their most vulnerable.”

“We’ve also been heartened by the way Māori providers have banded together to care for Te Ūpoko o Te Ika whānau,” she says.

A gap that has been important for Ngāti Kahungunu Whānau Services to fill is ensuring the COVID-19 Government messages reach the families they support.

“You need technology to hear the Prime Minister’s messages and sometimes whānau don’t have access to these things. These whānau are lucky if they have one phone.”

“So, the funding is really helping with that and our team will share important public messages when we are dropping phones off. We are also supplying TV’s so that kids can keep up with the way education is being delivered,” Ali says.

Ali says there needs to be good planning around the impact of COVID-19 on Māori in the long term as she’s concerned inequalities will increase.

“If we are not mindful of these circumstances, our people will suffer the most in the economic downturn. Right now, we are  moving the whānau in emergency housing into transitional housing in Alert Level Three. This is about whakapapa and the future of our next generation,” she says.


Photo: The Kahungunu Whānau Services team say their most vulnerable lack housing and essentials, let alone internet and mobile phones. They are delivering food, helping with bills and sharing COVID-19 messages to support Wellington whānau.

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