Publish Date:1 September 2022
Pasifika homelessness – a unique space
Pasifika people are the fourth largest ethnic group in New Zealand. Zero in on Auckland, and it’s home to the largest Pasifika population in the world. But sadly, many don’t have a place to call ‘home’, with a high number of Pacific people experiencing homelessness here.
In our daily work, we see the dispiriting effects of homelessness for Pacific whānau in our communities. It’s tough. For Pasifika. For people working in this space.
While there is very little, if any, formal research that has explored Pasifika homelessness, we have learned a lot over the past five years about how we can best support this community. And ‘community’ is key – essential for greater stability and happiness.
Over the past five years, we have supported 298 Pasifika households – approximately 20% of the total households we have supported – through Housing First and Rapid Rehousing programmes. The situation of Pasifika experiencing homelessness has several unique factors.
The graphs above highlight that the Pacific people we have worked with are younger, include more families, and tend to be homeless for shorter periods of time.
A lot of Pasifika homelessness is triggered by an event. For example, rents increasing more than they can afford, someone losing their job, or the impact of unexpected costs such as a funeral or vehicle breakdown. Because Pacific families are usually larger, the effects of increasing costs, such as food price hikes, are felt more by them.
This is reflected in the Youth19 survey, which found that Pacific school students are the most likely to experience housing deprivation and food insecurity.
The most common challenges we see for the Pacific peoples we work with are:
- large families living in overcrowded housing with relatives, resulting in people sleeping on floors or in garages
- lack of affordability of rent and everyday living costs, especially where there are large households with few people in employment
- lack of suitable houses for large families located where their community is, i.e., where their Aiga, jobs, schools, churches and sports clubs are
- language issues: where English is their second language, they struggle to easily find out or understand what services are available to them
- immigration issues affecting those who don’t have a visa to stay here, but who don’t want to or can’t get home.
Pasifika families that have more than one person in their household in employment rarely come to us for housing support. They tend to manage, even if things are tight.
Pasifika people are always willing to give a hand when anyone needs help. They will always be open to receiving a hand up in support. So we have helped Pasifika people with Housing, Education and Training, Employment, Health Support and Advocacy. Our service has been successful in the holistic approach using the Fale Fono, Te Whare Tapa Wha and Maslow Models. (Esera Maeata’anoa, Lead Support Navigator)
We appreciate the critical difference it makes to have Pacific staff supporting Pacific people out in the community. Simply put, they get it! They come from the same background and community, understand the cultural needs and pressures and, crucially, can in many cases speak the same language. There’s a level of comfort there that makes it easier for people to openly share their stories.
I worked alongside our Housing Case Worker who was working with a Samoan man who spoke very little English and was sleeping rough after his family moved to Australia. He was displaced and had nowhere to go. Our outreach team were able to pick him and his partner up from sleeping in the park. We moved him into a motel and started working with him. We noticed he didn’t say much other than ‘Hi’. After finding out he was Samoan we started to communicate with him in Samoan, and we were able to start breaking down some of the barriers. (Naomi Faasapini, Team Leader)
Visionwest Community Housing is an example of how housing providers have responded to these learnings. They now employ thirteen Pasifika staff as part of their team, compared to five years ago when they employed just three. The wider Visionwest Community Trust is also focused on increasing Pasifika staff across several other services including Home Care, Community Connectors, the Education & Training Centre, and the Pātaka Kai Food Bank.
The challenge for our collective continues to be the lack of housing supply. Of the 135 Pasifika households we have supported for 6 months or more, 89% have been housed. We need to find more decent, affordable housing that meets the needs of Pasifika families. When we achieve this, the evidence speaks for itself. For the 104 Pasifika households who have been housed 6 months or more, 94% stay in housing. With greater access to the right housing, we expect this success rate to increase even further.