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Awhina House helps homeless women through lockdown

Staff wearing 'Masks-for-Tauranga' masks. Supplied images.

It’s a house like any other in our neighbourhoods. There are beds providing the comfort of sleep, a kitchen full of home-cooked meals made with love, a garden tended to by green-fingered hands, and the chatter of family sharing goals for the future.

The only difference is this household, and family, is made up of women who all share one thing in common; they are homeless.

They now live at Awhina House - a shelter that nurtures, advocates for and supports the homeless women in Tauranga.

The shelter provides a room for three months, a place to call home, where everyone participates in the running of the House, including cooking shared meals and caring for the vegetable garden.

Whether they have been sleeping rough, living out of their car, or couch hopping between unsafe houses, these vulnerable women are taken in by Awhina House with an aim to break the cycle of homelessness; supporting them into their own permanent housing.

The House offers an opportunity for homeless women to transform their lives - a place where women can be safe, supported and find their path forward, offering a break from the pressures of day-to-day survival and an opportunity to reflect and make a new start.

When the country went into lockdown, like every other household, Awhina House had to make some changes. The staff team, who would normally be running workshops, support meetings and finding housing, focused on keeping residents safe, busy, and cared for.

Awhina House general manager Angela Wallace says everyone was able to relax a bit, enjoy the simple things, and focus on their mental health. 

“The restrictions on personal movement and lack of connection with their usual support network of friends outside the House was challenging for the Awhina House women at Level 3 and 4.

“We created our own very safe bubble with only our residents and staff on-site, and did things like baking, getting out in the garden, making art and even doing a few online yoga sessions. It was quite an intense period of self-reflection for some.”

An outpouring of support also came from the local community, from warm hand-knitted hats, to donations of handmade masks from ‘Masks for Tauranga’, and even local café Alimento Eatery offering to drop off baking.

To keep everyone safe, each new resident went into 14-day isolation before joining the rest of the women in the house. Now out of lockdown, the House is full of high spirits.

“When we moved to Level 2 all the residents in isolation were welcomed into the shared areas of the House and we had a big fry up for breakfast to celebrate!”

A safety plan is now also in place which involves everyone being responsible for their own contact tracing and visitors to site being inducted in with the safety plan and contact tracing register.

To help cover the increased household costs such as PPE, cleaning and hygiene supplies, and technical items for remote working, and set up costs of the isolation flat, local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council provided $2,500 in funding through the Rapid Response Fund.

TECT Operations and Grants Manager Paula Hudson says the funders were pleased to provide the funds necessary for Awhina House to adapt to the lockdown conditions.

“TECT were proud to help support the establishment of Awhina House over a year ago, and their operating costs last year. It is a vital facility ensuring those most vulnerable in our community have the opportunity to create a brigher future for themselves.

“Homelessness is a multifaceted issue that requires wrap-around support. Angela and her team are doing a fantastic job continuing to provide that support during these difficult times, and we’re glad this collective additional funding support helped them get through lockdown safely and will continue to protect everyone as we move down the Alert Levels.”

With house viewings and applications now resuming at Alert Level 2, the Awhina House team are glad to be back on the hunt for housing, looking to find permanent accommodation for Awhina House women.

“We are always looking for socially-minded landlords who want to partner with us and believe in our women by considering them as tenants. Our support continues when women are housed in the community with regular visits and phone calls,” says Angela.

“We want to ensure each woman thrives in the community and stays in her new home long-term. If you’re a landlord and would like to chat with us about housing Awhina House women we would love to hear from you. Please give us a call on 07 777 0944.”

To learn more about Awhina House, visit http://awhinahouse.org.nz/.

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