Former homeless man John Heta leads by example

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

John Heta has gone from sleeping on streets to being an advocate for the homeless.

"You can get out of the rut that you're in. You don't have to stay in it. I'm proof and there's a few others that are proof here too. So I spent five years out on the streets and that was between 2009 and 2015. I was housed in 2015 by Lifewise."

To give back to them, he volunteered.

"I came up here to volunteer and I started on the truck pushing furniture around, moving furniture, housing the homeless, giving them furniture and stuff and then they wanted me to move into the cafe."

He currently works at Lifewise Merge Cafe on Karangahape Road in Auckland.

"There was a lot of trouble at the time with the homeless because they were doing some bad stuff in here. So they asked me to go and work behind the counter because I am known to them and it kind of calmed down a lot of things because they knew I was behind the counter. So from there, they employed me full time."

He's witnessed a change in community efforts. However, he acknowledges more can be done.

"Just over the last couple of years, our Māori communities have started to step up. They've opened up their marae, which is a great thing. It's what need back home because homelessness is really strong and rife down in Rotorua now."

John Heta hopes to help those who have been sleeping on the streets for many years.