CMM is pleased to have featured in a recent edition of Parity, published by Australia's Council to Homeless Persons. Here we offer an abdriged verion of the story.

‘Christchurch rough sleeper numbers have plummeted a year after the first head count found 215 on the streets,’ reported the Christchurch Press on November 30, 2018. The article went on to state that ‘a combined approach aimed at the chronically homeless is credited with having the most significant impact’.

That combined approach is Housing First Christchurch, a collaborative initiative of six organisations with financial support from the Ministry of Social Development and the Christchurch City Council. Key themes for this article include the ongoing collaboration that has developed in Christchurch, the lessons we have learnt as we have worked together and the impact of our common work.

The launch of the Housing First initiative in May 2018 followed six months of discussions between community housing providers, social service organisations, government agencies, Ngāi Tahu, and the Christchurch City Council. Six organisations committed themselves to being part of the management group of the Christchurch Housing First initiative; Christchurch Methodist Mission, Comcare, Emerge Aotearoa, Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust, Christchurch City Mission and Te Whare Roimata.

The goal was identified. End homelessness in Christchurch by 2020; a goal that many said was too ambitious. Undeterred, the management group were committed to seeing everyone rough sleeping in the city had the right to housing.

The priority was identified as being those people who had been homeless for over a year and were predominantly street homeless. Wanting to avoid terms such as ‘client’, Housing First Christchurch was gifted the term ‘kaewa’ to refer to the people the initiative works with. Kaewa, in Te Reo Māori, comes from the full name Manu Kaewa, meaning travelling bird that migrates to different places looking for warmth, food and a place to rest.

The core group of six organisations acknowledged that efforts that had been tried in the past for kaewa had not worked. What was needed was a radically different approach that brought together the collective skills and knowledge of many organisations. Individual strengths and competencies were identified and roles were allocated; four of the organisations were community housing providers and two, Emerge Aotearoa and Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust agreed to become tenancy managers for the first kaewa housed.

While this model can seem complicated, it has strengthened the commitment of the organisations to the programme and its workers and has enabled the workers to draw on the wider resources of the six organisations. The partnership not only brings people to the table, but also the whole organisation or network. In addition, the new staff team could ‘hit the ground running’ as many had extensive contacts and experience to draw on.

By coming together and working collaboratively, Christchurch now has an extremely effective Housing First service. At the end of six months, 31 people who had been long-term homeless are now in permanent homes. A further eight kaewa have been accepted into the programme and are currently in transitional housing while a home is being sought. In early 2019, further people will be brought on to the programme. Three of those housed are now in full-time employment.

It is not an easy journey for the kaewa or the staff team. But seeing the pride and hearing the stories of kaewa who have now been in their permanent homes for over five months is testament to the fact that this initiative is working. And a significant factor in its success is the collaboration that has emerged; the shared vision, the willingness of organisations who may have competed for Government contracts in the past to ‘get over themselves’, work together, and provide the best outcome for kaewa. By working together, our aim to end homelessness in Christchurch by 2020 is achievable.

A kaewa named Tubbs, one of the people to have a home thanks to Housing First

Tubbs and dog