Tuinga Whānau Support offers hope to struggling families

By Kim Webby, Te Ao with MOANA

Hope and homes is the goal of a Tauranga Māori trust which has housed a hundred whānau in the last four years.

The Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust is led by its “chief imagination officer”, Tommy Kapai Wilson.

As well as housing homeless whānau, the trust’s wrap-around support has enabled a mother to be reunited with her daughter and mokopuna who were taken by Oranga Tamariki two years ago.

The trust also teaches cooking, kai growing, hunting and mau rakau in a service designed for the whole family.

The Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust began four years ago with just one “house of hope.”  It now has 35 houses and two motels.

Heather Gollop turned to the trust for help lost her home in a house fire. 

“I don’t want to be homeless living on the street and that  so I just rung for help with TTW and that’s how I’ve become involved,” says Gollop.

Another woman came to the trust from Women’s Refuge while yet another mother and son were unable to find accommodation after their rental home was sold.   

They tried boarding with other people but without success.

“Every time we seem to board with somebody, they’d end up being on drugs or something. It’s just not right for children to be in that environment,” the woman told Te Ao with MOANA.

“So, somebody told me about Te Tuinga Whanau so I went and saw them and I haven’t looked back since.  I’ve learnt to cook whereas before I used to just have takeaways.”

Now all three women are in warm, comfortable homes and gaining new life skills through ongoing support from the trust.

Te Ao with Moana caught up with them at a weekly cooking class with top chef and Happy Puku caterer, Tipene Wilson, who spent 26 years working in Paris.  He and Tommy Wilson are brothers.

The women were making chicken skewers, venison spring rolls from deer caught by young people from the programme and sushi rolled with slivers of venison and vegetables.  Lunch was delicious.

One of the women, Janine Cork, now works with their tutor in the Happy Puku catering business. 

She told us, “It’s not just cooking I’ve learnt from Stephen actually.  It’s his whole temperament and the way he deals with people and things like that.  It’s a whole different environment from what I’m certainly used to.  I’ve just changed my whole attitude, the people that I’m with, being with these guys has really been life changing for me.”

Rangimarie Kahotea says she cherishes the supportive companionship of the other women in the programme.

“We all get together and have talks about problems we might have and share together.”

And at the end of each cooking class, if there’s food left over after lunch, it gets shared to other whānau in need.

Tauranga is a booming economy with a big port, a great lifestyle and lots of people moving there, often to escape high house prices in Auckland.  That has pushed up housing costs for people on low incomes and benefits, says Wilson.

“It’s the new working poor.  Those are the ones that really do need a food parcel, most of their putea is going on rent.  It starts when they’re on the street or a car.  Then they go to a refuge or a shelter.  Then they come in contact with us and it’s a motel, food parcel.  Then we can work with them into short term and long term accommodation so that’s the food chain of homelessness,” he says.

“One of the things is of course budgeting, knowing how to make the budget last.   Rather than, Tuesdays is benefit day, that’s takeaways night.  Wednesday and Thursday and Friday get less and less and by the weekend there’s no kai for the kids on a Monday.”

Kahotea says the cooking classes help them to budget, learn how to cook with what they have and even how to forage for food.

Cooking tutor, Tipene Wilson adds, “Their number one problem is they just don’t know what to do with what they have, so it’s a vicious cycle.  They’re feeding their mokopuna food that’s got no nutrition and too much sugar.  I’m teaching them how to give flavour to food,  using fresh herbs, spice, we’ve got cardamom and cumin in the chicken.”

Mani Sharplin is the hunter gatherer of Te Tuinga Whanau Trust, who takes rangatahi hunting and fishing as a way to teach life skills.

“With our disconnected youth or our heartbroken youth, hunting offers another alternative for adventure, hunting and bush-craft brings opportunities for them to feel really fulfilled.  The buzz for me is seeing them take a pig home and seeing their parents just blown away that their young fella can do that and they’ve carried that out and they’ve been part of the whole process of getting it from the bush to the table.  Kai is rongoā aye.  Kai is healing," says Sharplin.

“I believe if they are addicted to drugs, addicted to alcohol or violent offenders, if we work on the heart, work on the wairua, then the rest of that stuff clears up, it heals itself when you’re working on the real issue which is a broken heart.  Mahinga kai, it’s a great opening to get that conversation rolling.”

Being in the bush is also a way to connect rangatahi with their whakapapa.

 “The bush around here holds a lot of story and a lot of history that they don’t know about.  So, while we’re in the bush we’re learning about local history and learning about ancestors that have come before us,” says Sharplin.

“They come to us with labels of naughty kids, offenders, little eggs, that sort of thing, and they come out with purpose and identity.  They know how to hunt.  They have things they can contribute with their family and community. They’re no longer just naughty kids.”

But being a client of Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust is definitely a hand up, not a hand out.

Wilson says, “I think Māori ourselves also have to look at our own responsibilities.  It’s easy to say not one more child or not one more of this but we also have to look at not one more P pipe, not one more syny of tinny (synthetic cannabis), or not one more drop because the common denominator in all the families we’re dealing with is addiction and mental health.”

He notes that the Trust places its energies into supporting Mums and children, rather than street people.

“We have the streeties or the street beggars and most of them have an addiction or mental health issue, but they pretty much choose that lifestyle and we could pour all our resources into those 15 or 20 or 30 people around Tauranga.  Or, you’ve got the mum with six kids and she’s living on noodles.  So, we choose to look after those that want to look after themselves.”

Sixty families are tonight sleeping safe and warm in homes provided by Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust.