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CONGRATULATIONS to the winners of the 2020 Kiwibank New Zealander of The Year Awards. Lifewise’s very own Merge Community were among the semi-finalists and, although we didn’t win this year, we’re very proud to be recognised amongst some of Aotearoa’s most connected communities. Read more about Merge Community below.

The Merge Community Peer Support Team provides guidance and advocacy to people in the homeless community through Merge Café on Karangahape Road, Auckland. Everyone on the team has lived experience of homelessness. They also support the Housing First programme with community-led development. They help develop alternative pathways and innovative solutions, sharing their lived experience to enable real solutions and connections.

On a daily basis at least one or more of the Merge Community team is at Merge Café to engage with people who have lost heart and have a distrust for social services. Each has volunteered their time to help their street whanau. They do this by:

  • bringing a kaupapa Māori approach through tikanga me te reo Māori
  • demonstrating recovery and growth to others
  • countering an “us and them” culture, where professionals are seen as experts and the homeless, are seen as “clients”
  • participating in decision making and influence systems that affect them
  • challenging public perceptions

Many members of the Merge Community are still dealing with the personal impacts of life on the street. Some have a home and their own personal stuff to deal with while others are living from sofa to sofa or in a motel. Yet they come to “work” to help the street whanau and those marginalised by the system. Each day, they listen, they advise, and they walk alongside people who need support at Work and Income, who need someone to advocate for them to get a bond back or their electricity overpayments.

The team on average see about 4 people every day. Over the past six months, the peer community volunteers have provided advice, support and advocacy to 272 individual whanau members. Most of their work is around housing and benefits. For 58 people the main issues were emergency accommodation, while benefit advocacy was key for 77. Most people required advocacy around 2-3 issues. 61 people were given ongoing peer support.

Besides the lived experience work, some of the peer support team have been out to Ihumatao to hear about the land dispute and support their kaupapa. Some of their stories are featured in the K’ Road Chronicle a local community paper developed and edited by Six, who also has lived experience of homelessness. In June, Merge Community supported the Lifewise Big Sleepout as table hosts and with leadership around a Te Reo exercise.

Recently Merge Community started exploring ways for whanau members to earn a little in a flexible way. They’re supporting Piki Toi which is helping artists sell their artworks through exhibitions and markets. They’ve also supported the development of a cleaning-and-moving business prototype that has undertaken 13 cleans and moves and provided earning opportunities to 10 people.

To meet the team or learn more about their mahi, please come to Merge Cafe. We’re on 453 Karangahape Road, open weekdays from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You can also support their work by making a donation. Thank you for your support!