I arrived in Wellington New Zealand after a grueling 34 hours of travel but I can honestly say that it was worth it see such a beautiful place. It is quite a contrast to my last few weeks in India while the fast pace and crowds of people. I am fortunate enough to have as my guide and host Greg King an Eisenhower Fellow from New Zealand and a well known defense attorney in New Zealand. My goal is to look at the type of social services that are provided to those living in poverty and the homeless in New Zealand and some of the challenges that they are finding in balancing providing necessary services to those in need with ending generational poverty and allowing individuals the ability to be self sufficient.
Marion Blake CEO of the Platform Charitable was kind enough to host a 2 hour roundtable meeting for me and several of the providers of services to the homeless, mental health providers, and those groups that address the lack of affordable and quality housing for those in need. One of these groups the Downtown Community Ministry is headed by Stephanie McIntyre who is an well known advocate of the disadvantaged and provides comprehensive services to address all of the needs of those living in poverty. Having the opportunity to share my own personal experiences and hearing the difficulties that the service providers were dealing with were upcoming budgets cuts, merging of service providers, and trying to find the most effective way to meet the needs of their clients was enlightening. Many of the issues were similar to what is happening in the US. One of the best aspects of the meeting was connecting with a woman who had overcome much tragedy in her life and through the help of Downtown Community Ministry and Stephanie McIntyre she was able to overcome a life of drugs and crime to become a healthy and productive mother and grandmother and she felt that her kids were ending the cycle of poverty.
In a later meeting I also got an opportunity to met with a mother of 12, the grandmother of 5 at only 42 years old, she had been on the streets since age 13 after escaping an abusive family situation. She has lost custody of all of her underage children, has to leave her state home and head to court ordered rehabilitation for 6 months. She was struggling with leaving everything she knew to try to get help for her alcoholism. She expressed her fear to me and wanted to wait until after Christmas to go to rehab so she could see her children. This is a woman who is completely illiterate and does not believe she will live very much longer because she believes she has destroyed her body with her drinking. I am not sure what will happen to this woman but she has an impressive social safety net. I was able to meet her social worker who advocates on her behalf, drives her to appointments, makes sure she gets all benefits entitled by the New Zealand government, and basically makes sure she is okay. The question I wanted to ask was whether so much support was a good thing or did it create a culture of dependency that was passed on for generation to generation.
The following day I went to The Clubhouse in Wellingt on which is basically a drop in center for homeless people who have mental illness to have a place to stay during the day when the shelters are closed. I met the general manager Karen who was a large woman covered in tattoos who looked intimidating but when you got to know her she had a big heart and had suffered greatly from many years of being on the streets herself. She understood the people she was helping because she had been one of the them. She was concerned about funding and being able to really help these people who had been failed by the system.
I also have gotten to see a little of the City and went to my first ever boxing match that was a fundraiser for the local police and firefighters charities. It was a great time and Eisenhower Fellow Greg King was the mc. I also got a little culture by visiting the Te Papa Museum which showcases the role that the Maori people played in New Zealand.