Housing a Vision, Creating a Home
Awhina House has its very own angel
When we think of the New Zealand’s homeless, certain images spring to mind: figures crouching in shop doorways, makeshift beds, shopping carts loaded with possessions tucked into alleyways for day-time dwelling. The stereotypical picture is not a pretty – nor entirely accurate – one, as it fails to tell the truer extent of its reach and those who identify as homeless. In the Bay of Plenty, this overarching ‘underdog’ stigma is one that local Angela Wallace has been working to undo for many years. Her quest to reach out to the ‘hidden’ homeless in the community was finally met last year, when she and her fellow trustees launched Awhina House – a place of refuge for women.
“Women who are homeless we don’t often see in the public face. They are the ones who’ll stay invisible – sleeping in cars, knowing when the park toilets open and close so they can go and in out without being seen; many of them will be working yet silently moving from friends couch or garage each night,” explains Angela. “Because women are typically amongst our most vulnerable homeless – it’s often this factor that prevents them from seeking help.”
After years working as a playcentre mum, running community meals with the people of Merivale and serving many charitable initiatives; Angela decided to action her dream, creating a haven for the homeless women of Tauranga.
“You get really close to the community you are serving. I remember when I was running weekly meals, you’d see the same woman each time and then one week, and then a few weeks later, she would be missing,” Angela explains. “When you constantly see this happening, I knew I just had to act.”
Awhina House, Tauranga’s first homeless sanctuary for women, celebrated its first birthday this year. Catering to up to 11 women at a time – each has their own private room within the complex – it goes beyond just providing a roof.
“Every woman who stays with us will be working towards achieving different things – becoming mentally stronger, employment, securing a house for her and her children.”
“The shared goal they all work towards is leaving here and securing their own home.”
Angela and her team journey with their women for as long as it takes. “For some, they may be here for 12 weeks, others longer. And, that’s okay – we don’t issue a strict time limit.”
Awhina House hasn’t just filled a gap in the marketplace for homeless woman, it’s opened a safe, secure doorway for any woman to reach out to, should she need to.
“We have ages in here from 18 to 60+. Homelessness isn’t targeted. We want all women to know that regardless of life and journey, they have a place with us.”