Monday, 23 April 2012

Supporting Hidden Talents

Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) works at the tough end of things. Faced with those in need, we often forget to report on the positive outcomes of our work.

Kate Bell, outreach worker at DCM says, “Many of our service users have hidden talents they don’t have the opportunity to show because they don’t have the stability and security that having a place to live provides.”

Kate and Alan Norman, also an outreach worker at DCM, are involved in supporting people into stable and affordable housing.

“One of our clients has an amazing talent for writing poetry. His poems are brilliant, and since he has moved into permanent housing this talent has flourished – and so has he”, says Alan.

Alan and Kate first met this person when he was living at the Night Shelter. He is a quiet person, and so didn’t come forward to say that he needed support. When they did connect with him, they found he didn’t think he was entitled to help, and had debts which prevented him from moving into a tenancy with City Housing.

City Housing has a policy where if a person has debts over a certain threshold, they must be actively paying them off before they can be eligible for housing. With Alan acting as an advocate for him, this person was able to reduce and manage his debts.

“When we visited recently, he was looking extremely happy. He has started writing poetry again, he had food cooking on the stove, and has a much brighter outlook on life than when Kate and I first met him,” says Alan.

There are many other service users with hidden talents, and we hope that once they are living in stable accommodation these talents will be given the opportunity to grow.

You can find out more about the work that we do at DCM by contacting us on 04 384 7699 or visiting our website:

Volunteer Football Fever

This week, not only are we celebrating the All Whites’ achievements at the football World Cup, but it is also Volunteer Awareness Week. New Zealand has a lesser-known football team fundraising to go to a different World Cup and this team is supported entirely by volunteers.

The 2010 Homeless World Cup will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September. Volunteers are fundraising to meet the cost of uniforms, passports, insurance and return flights to Brazil.

Katie Owen, a volunteer from Street Football Aotearoa says, “Participation in the Homeless World Cup has shown a significant impact on the lives of homeless and marginalised people. From our 2008 team, one player has started University, another received an award for his volunteer work, and three others are now in stable employment.

“Unfortunately, we are currently $10,000 short of our budgeted total and we need to raise this in the next three weeks so that we don’t miss out on flights”.

The Homeless World Cup began in 2003. More than 500 players from over 60 nations will take part. Participation has consistently led to over 70% of those involved improving their lives through employment, housing, education and addiction treatment programmes. All the players who represented NZ at the 2008 Cup have moved into stable accommodation and made positive life changes.

Street Football Aotearoa is supporting the NZ team, and has been preparing participants from all around the country for 18 months. Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) coordinates weekly training sessions for players in Wellington.

DCM is proud to be supporting Street Football Aotearoa and acknowledges the role volunteers have in getting the team to Brazil.

You can make donations to Street Football Aotearoa and find out more about the team at: For more information about the 2010 Homeless World Cup, visit:

Visioning the End to Homelessness

The New Zealand Coalition to End Homelessness (NZCEH) met this week in Wellington to discuss the planning and strategies around their vision to end homelessness in New Zealand by 2020. They were hosted by Downtown Community Ministry (DCM).

Corie Haddock, service manager of Lifewise, and chair of NZCEH says, “Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice. It is a result, and an example, of extreme social exclusion. Homelessness is a complex issue, and can effect a wide population.

“We want to ensure that the needs of homeless people and NZCEH’s strategies are at the forefront of our government’s future social policy frameworks. We want to emulate Australia’s national policies on ending homelessness, and learn from their experiences when developing our own policies.”

In Australia, homelessness has been on the political agenda since the election of the current government in 2007. There have been a number of national, state and regional consultations and a target of halving national homelessness by 2020.

Stephanie McIntyre, director of DCM says, “We want a clear commitment from the New Zealand government that they want to end homelessness in NZ. The state of Victoria in Australia has established and committed to a ten-year cross- governmental plan to reduce homelessness which has been endorsed at Ministerial level”.

Like DCM, NZCEH believes that every person has the right to participate freely and fully in their lives and develop their potential as human beings. However, homeless people are often excluded from these fundamental rights due to a wide range of barriers.

Stephanie says, “Often homeless people aren’t able to enjoy the benefits of our society like the rest of us, and changing this is vital to the dignity, equality and security that each person deserves.”

Rethinking Punishment

With New Zealand’s rate of imprisonment second only to the United States, Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) is backing calls for reform of our prison system.

The changes urgently required include: placing the role of Corrections within social service departments, and making sure prisoners get access to remedial education, drug and alcohol programmes and a genuine rehabilitative environment.

Dr Tony Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Victoria University is one of a number of voices calling for the establishment of an independent penal commission.

“Our current prison system is failing. DCM supports the recommendations for penal reform, and a move towards prison policy based on research and expert advice.” says Stephanie McIntyre, director of DCM.

This is a view supported by the Salvation Army in their 2006 report, “Beyond the Holding Tank.” This report, as well as advocating for an independent penal commission, recommends moving the focus from building more prisons and increasingly harsher sentencing policy to restorative and rehabilitative processes.

Stephanie says, “With illiteracy rates high among prisoners, there is a failure by prisons to use opportunities to address literacy issues. This makes moving into employment once released an even harder task. DCM witnesses first-hand the effects of this, and the increasing need for social services through lack of opportunities for released offenders.”

Bill English commented at a speech to the Families Commission in May this year, that our prison system was a “moral and fiscal failure”. DCM urges the Government to respond to the frequent calls for penal reform.

If you would like to find out more about organisations involved in penal reform in New Zealand, please visit the Rethinking Crime and Punishment website.

Our Cupboards Are Bare

The Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) foodbank is almost empty. We’ve seen a 44% increase in the number of food parcels given out in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same quarter in 2010.

“The situation is dire, we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of people we’re supporting even though our foodbank is only open two afternoons a week”, says Stephanie McIntye, director of DCM.

In Jan – March 2010, DCM provided 627 food parcels to 241 people, with 66 people using the foodbank for the first time. For the same period this year, we’ve given out 903 parcels to 289 people, with a startling 90 new clients.

The majority of these people are on a Sickness, Invalid’s or Unemployment Benefit, though the number of people not receiving any income at all has increased from one person, to nine people. This is hardly suprising given the increase in the costs of living, and the increase in the unemployment rate in New Zealand.

“It is deeply disappointing to see so many people in such great need. Not since the 90s have we seen this level of reliance on our foodbank. Because we’re seeing more people, our food supplies are running low. We don’t want to get in a situation where we are having to turn people away,” says Stephanie.

In our foodbank, there are only 2 cans of tuna left, 3 cans of beetroot, 1 can of corn, a few spreads and boxes of Weetbix, and some baked beans and canned tomato. There’s no tinned fruit, meat or other fish. There’s no soup, packet meals, tea and coffee or even toilet paper.

DCM needs your help to restock our shelves. If you have items to donate, please contact us on 04 384 7699.

All About Inclusion

Downtown Community Ministry (DCM) believes that everyone deserves to be understood. This week, we had the fantastic support of a sign language interpreter from iSign to help us.

A deaf homeless person came into DCM needing urgent assistance. Despite staff spending a long time with the person, we were unable to effectively communicate. This was a problem on our behalf due to the lack of signing skills we have as an organisation.
Stephanie McIntyre, director of DCM, says “We rang the Deaf association for their advice, and were directed towards iSign. Less than an hour after this call, an interpreter was onsite.”

iSign is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Deaf Aotearoa. Any profit iSign makes goes back into unfunded work for the Deaf community. The website behind iSign, which includes a system where the public can request interpreters has been online since September 2009.

There are approximately 80 interpreters registered with iSign, and a small team behind the scenes, as well as 3 booking administrators, who organise bookings for the whole country.

Shannon Knox, from iSign, says “One of our booking administrators is Deaf herself, and we are very proud of her for proving that it is possible for a Deaf person to do what is basically a “call centre” job using NZ Relay as well as email and text messaging – and excel 
at it!”

NZ Relay is a system where conversations over the phone are typed and relayed, making it possible for a Deaf person and a hearing person to converse over the phone. This is the system Stephanie encountered when initially contacting iSign to book an interpreter.

“The meeting we had with the person, the interpreter and our staff was fantastic. We were able to ask what we could do to help and provide more assistance for them. We were also able to arrange a follow up meeting to enable us to offer more proactive support. This would not have been possible without the quick and professional service from iSign”, says Stephanie.

You can find out more about iSign at: