Merge Community • 453 Karangahape Road, Auckland • Lifewise


Building the capacity of people with lived experience of homelessness.

In 2016, four people with lived experience of homelessness worked with Lifewise to co-design and begin the groundbreaking Housing First programme. Through the co-design process, we drew in large numbers of the street community who had their voice heard in a meaningful way and wanted to become more involved.
Building on that energy and enthusiasm, Lifewise provided peer support training for 14 people with lived experience of homelessness.
In January 2017, Lifewise re-focused our homelessness services away from traditional service provision to concentrate on the evidence-based Housing First Model in tandem with peer support and community-led development.
Of the group of 14 who trained in peer support:
  • Three are peer support workers (two in the Housing First team and one with Merge Community team)
  • Eight are peer support and community development volunteers with the Merge Community team.
We have now started implementing the Housing First programme in the city centre. This programme provides permanent housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness along with wraparound support. As of June 2017, 16 people have been permanently housed through this programme. The average length of time this group has been homeless is 16 years.


The Housing First co-design process identified the need for the involvement of people with lived experience. This process also identified the vital need for community support and casework support to ensure people’s well-being.
Volunteers who have experienced long term rough sleeping in Auckland’s city centre derive determination, drive, passion and confidence from this work.

They form the Merge Community Peer Team, based from Merge Café (Lifewise’s social enterprise that provides 20,000 low-cost meals a year and a vibrant safe place for the whole community to connect)

The Merge Community Peer Team provides support and advocacy to people in the homeless community through the Café. The team also support the Housing First programme with community-led development. They are working to develop alternative pathways and innovative solutions.

Our approach has proven to be effective because it:
  • Engages people that distrust services
  • Brings a kaupapa Māori approach
  • Demonstrates recovery and growth
  • Counters an “us and them” culture, where professionals are seen as experts, and the homeless are seen as “clients” that services do things to
  • Enables people with lived experience to take part in decision-making and influence the systems that affect them
  • Challenges public perceptions around homelessness
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