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Regional Rescue

Regional Rescue

February 9 was the official opening of the first Salvation Army housing development in the lower North Island town of Levin and was about more than a warm, dry and safe place to live.

It was a lovely summer’s morning on February 9 and, as temperatures rose, the smell of grass hung on the air. People were milling about and there was a palpable buzz of excitement—and not just because of the promise of the fine day ahead.

‘This 52-unit complex has been four years in the making and is a partnership between The Salvation Army Social Housing (SASH), the developers, Levin Corps members Wayne and Bridget Bishop and the Levin Corps,’ says Director of Social Housing and Property Greg Foster.

‘All of these people have been on the Housing Register, and for many of these whānau (families) this will be the first secure housing they have lived in.’

The new development is on Hinemoa Street at the southern end of Levin, not far from Horowhenua Medical Centre and Horowhenua Learning Centre. Built at a cost of about $15 million, 26 families currently live in 26 units. Once complete, by the middle of this year, there will be 52 units in total.

The development will also include a playground, outdoor community area, central administration area and 46 car parks. There will even be an orchard once it’s fully finished.

Stationed full-time on-site to help residents will be housing support manager Jacqueline Pohatu. I look forward to serving this community and whānau in a mana-enhancing way that’s empowerment-based, whānau-centric,’ she explains.

‘I was not alone in my journey of choosing the first 26 whānau members who now have their keys and their permanent homes here. Beside me was my colleague and another mentor in my newly appointed role—her name is Emily Tan.’

Pohatu says, ‘This wahine (woman) stood beside me and is very much as involved emotionally with our whānau as I am. She was right there listening to the life stories of each whānau and, like me, her heart went out to them all.

‘She cared for the babies that came into our office space at the Levin Corps, as some of our mothers had no childcare alternatives and had to bring their babies. She smiled, she was gracious and kind to them all.’

Pohatu shares the story of one of those mothers. ‘One of our mamas could not attend the group sign-up day due to the fact she had given birth,’ she begins. ‘I completed the sign-up process with our young mother, who came down especially to do this and collect her keys. She did not want to take her brand new baby back to the emergency housing she was living in during her pregnancy. This gift of a new home means the world to her.

‘She cried, she hugged me, and she told me how absolutely grateful she is to God above for meeting Emily and myself in Levin, and that she will never, ever forget what The Salvation Army has given and done for her and her children.

‘This story absolutely touched my heart, just to know what we have achieved in our work.’

While many people might assume access to healthy, stable and affordable housing is a problem mostly found in large cities, it is also an issue across regional Aotearoa New Zealand. As reported by The New Zealand Herald when the development opened, there were 84 people on the social Housing Register in the Horowhenua region—which Levin is part of—in 2018. The number jumped to 237 by June 2022, an increase of more than 280 percent in just four years.

Captain Ben Schischka—who along with wife Karen are the corps officers at Levin Corps—can attest to the challenges many people are facing. ‘We’ve been acutely aware of the increasing housing crisis in Levin,’ he says of his four years in the community. ‘It’s been on our hearts and minds.’

The builders behind the development are Levin-based Wayne Bishop Group. Company namesake Wayne Bishop also happens to be a Salvationist and part of the Levin Corps.

Ben says Wayne’s involvement answers prayers about helping people in the community, thanks to Wayne’s commercial knowledge and experience. ‘It’s been a real blessing.’

What has also been a blessing has been the generosity shown by the Levin community.

‘People have donated beds, whiteware, linen—it’s been really incredible,’ says Ben. ‘God’s love is really in action.’

Ben, Greg and Jacqueline point out that while it’s wonderful to be serving the people of Levin and the wider Horowhenua region, there is more mahi (work) to be done to make sure everyone has a stable, safe roof over their head so they can live their best lives.

As Jacqueline says, ‘I say, bring in the new dawn, uplift the darkness that once was. Let us never forget the power of empathy and love for others in their most vulnerable times, and may our shining light guide the way for their future.’

From left: Wayne Bishop, Muaupoko Tribal Authority CEO Di Rump and Director of Social Housing and Property Greg Foster at the Feb. 9 opening of the new development.
Back, from left: Wayne Bishop Group General Manager Property Barry Judd, SASH National Housing Operations Manager Fiona Matthews, and Wayne Bishop Group Project Manager Zane Bull. Front: Housing Support Manager Jacqueline Pohatu.

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