From the Missioner
Auckland City Missioner, Diane Robertson, is often in the news. Advocacy on behalf of those who are vulnerable or may be marginalised is a key function of the Auckland City Mission, and this page will keep you up to date on the Missioner's thinking around important social issues.
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Christmas Appeal 2012
Many of us mark the start of December by opening the first door on an Advent Calendar.
For children, the excitement of opening a little door each morning is a prelude to family gatherings and presents on Christmas Day. For most of us December is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the Christmas celebrations to come.
It’s not like that for so many of our clients. Instead of looking forward to decorating the house and opening presents, many families are wondering where this week’s grocery money is coming from. Instead of planning summer holidays and parties with friends, they are trying to juggle poorly-paid part-time work with making sure their children are fed, clothed, and cared for.
For them, Advent marks the anticipation of extra expense, extra difficulty, and higher levels of stress.
If you think you’ve heard all this before, it’s because, unfortunately, we see these same problems every Christmas. We tell you these things because they are true. But we know it’s easy to become immune to these messages, to switch off, or to see people living in poverty as being the authors of their own suffering.
Over the last few weeks as I’ve read letters to the editor, listened to the radio, or talked with people about the Mission’s work, I’ve been struck by how many times I’ve heard things like: “Anyone can find two bits of toast to feed their children”; or “They spend too much on booze and cigarettes”; or “We shouldn’t be feeding children in schools because it’s not our responsibility – the parents should pull their socks up.”
If people could observe the families that turn to the Mission for help, they would see the reality of poverty. They would see that most families are desperate to work, do everything they can to feed their children, are good parents and want their lives to change for the better. They simply do not have the resources or support to do so.
As one client told us lately: “It’s so frustrating knowing that my partner and I have the potential and ability to change things but not having any resources in place to help us.”
Christmas is traditionally a time when families and communities come together to celebrate. December is an exciting time for us as we help to make Christmas happen for thousands of Aucklanders who would otherwise go without.
Thank you – and Merry Christmas.
Winter Appeal 2012
It’s hard work being poor.
Over the past year the government has announced policies to reduce the number of people living on benefits and encourage solo parents into employment.
In principle I applaud their philosophy. It is not good for families to rely on benefits and social housing long-term and it is certainly not possible in such tough economic times to support a growing number of people living on benefits. Whilst we may all agree that long-term dependency on welfare is not sustainable, I am deeply concerned at how these changes are being proposed and carried out.
Current policy uses a punitive approach to achieve their results, rewarding those who come off benefits and gain employment, and punishing those who fail to do so.
Sadly it’s not that simple and the rhetoric and statistics hide what is really happening.
Since the introduction of the Future Focus Policy in January 2012, 44,000 beneficiaries have been sanctioned by losing up to 50% of their benefits and 14,000 people have had their unemployment benefit suspended*.
Clients of the City Mission who have been sanctioned for failing to attend a work programme or accept part-time work are simply unable to accept work through lack of transport or lack of appropriate child care. Many would be happy to work but there are no jobs available.
A number of people seen by the Mission who have lost their unemployment benefits have long-term mental health issues. Many are in the grip of drug and alcohol issues and a proportion of those that come to see us are illiterate and miss out on their benefits because of their inability to fill out forms.
The clients we see are not lazy. It is incredibly hard work never having enough money, making daily choices around whether to keep warm or to eat, walking to appointments, struggling daily with bureaucracy, working unsociable part-time hours for wages that are inadequate.
This punitive approach is punishing the most vulnerable people and the withdrawal of their benefits simply shifts the responsibility for looking after them to organisations such as the City Mission.
New thinking and new approaches are needed if we want to lift families out of poverty.
The City Mission works with clients to find long-term solutions for individuals and families who are ground down by poverty and government policies.
You will see we have dedicated the inside of this newsletter to our Family 100 Research Project which is now underway. We believe the project has the potential to lead to significant change not only in the lives of many people living in poverty, but also in the way the Mission and other social service agencies work with our clients. Already it has highlighted key issues facing the most disadvantaged people in our city.
Christmas Appeal 2011
This year marks my 31st year of work in social services in New Zealand. Each year, I’ve become more cautious about making quick judgements based on how people dress, where they live, or what their job is.
Over the last three decades I’ve run youth accommodation, managed New Zealand’s last “boys’ home”, counselled sexually abused women and children, and worked as a family therapist. For the last 13 years I’ve worked at the City Mission which provides a range of services to the homeless, the poor, the isolated, and the addicted.
The people I have worked with have come from a range of backgrounds. I’ve seen people in despair who are from very poor families, and people in despair from very affluent families. Spiritual and social poverty can be burdens every bit as tough as material poverty.
What I have learnt is to never judge a book by its cover.
I have seen men and woman from wealthy backgrounds overwhelmed by historical abuse issues, struggling to maintain relationships, self-harming and self-destructive. I’ve met women from established families who have endured physical and emotional violence and who have felt powerless to help themselves. There have been affluent parents, desperate because of intractable mental illness or drug addiction affecting a family member. There were the gay men and lesbian women who feared rejection by homophobic families.
In my role as City Missioner, I see those on very low incomes who turn to the Mission for food parcels, medical care, and help managing their budgets. Illness, loss of a job, a debt to a loan shark, or just a series of small unwise financial choices can tip people into financial chaos in a matter of weeks. Add a tendency to an illness such as depression, or an addiction, and the challenge of getting people back on their feet increases exponentially.
Both groups are representative of our community. Both need help. And in both groups there are some that are grateful and others that are not. There have been rich families, for example, who never contributed to the cost of the services they used, and poor families who contributed what little they had.
Luckily, at the Mission we’re not looking for gratitude. What we look to do is meet the need people have, when their lives become overwhelming, for someone to talk to that they can trust who can help them see that life still has possibilities. Our reward comes when we see people grow in resilience and self-sufficiency, become able to establish relationships, and begin to find meaning in their lives. It doesn’t always happen.
The Mission Christmas dinner is an expression of the Mission’s care for all of those in our community who are poor, lonely, isolated, or abused. They come, the well-dressed and the poorly dressed. Some drive, some catch buses, and many of the homeless, walk. They are united by a common need to be part of a community on a day of celebration. This year, over 2,500 people came to the table as members of our Mission family, and over 500 volunteers made them welcome, served them food, sang carols, handed out gifts, farewelled our guests – then stayed to clear up.
Like most family get-togethers on Christmas Day, we had at our Mission table the easy to love and the difficult, the grateful and those who just turned up and reaped the benefits. But it was Christmas. We weren’t going to check our guests’ wrists to see the quality of their watches, or income test them. To choose to spend Christmas among strangers, to get a fairly simple celebratory meal and a little low-cost gift or two, is a big choice. It is a choice that few of us would make if we had other options. Our approach is that if they come to us for Christmas dinner, they need care and company. We provide it. That is what you do at Christmas. And in January, we come back to work, and start again to help people create lives worth living.
Winter Appeal July 2011
Every year we see more people coming to Auckland City Mission seeking help. Their reasons are varied and complex and the one thing we know for sure is that more and more families are struggling to provide the basic necessities of life.
That's when they turn to the Mission for help. When there's no food left; nowhere to shelter for the night; when all other options have been exhausted, people come to the Mission.
We know that the issue that brought them to our door is rarely the beginning, or the end, of their problems - merely the last straw.
We know that at Christmas and in the heart of winter, the number of people needing helps rises dramatically. This year the team at the Mission have already supplied more support to more people than ever before – and now we brace ourselves for the coming winter.
Nothing we do is possible without your help.
Your donation will help to provide food, warm clothing, bedding, health care, and appropriate shelter for Aucklanders in real need.
Please donate to the Auckland City Mission Winter Appeal today and help us get through winter together.
Tax Appeal March 2011
Like you, our hearts and minds right now are with our Canterbury friends, family and colleagues.
We support our sister Mission in Christchurch and will help where we can. We also continue to care for and provide support to those in our own community who are turning in ever increasing numbers to the Auckland City Mission for help.
At this time we would normally mail you with a request for support - to help us help Aucklanders in need. We do understand and appreciate, however, the immediate needs in Christchurch and know that most New Zealanders have already made significant donations to help those affected.
Our newsletter was sent to print in advance of Christchurch's devastating tragedy. With the greatest respect, we enclose it now for your information and gratefully receive any contribution you choose to make.
From the Missioner, March 2011
2011 started for the Mission with the busiest January in 14 years. Every year the Auckland City Mission sees thousands of new clients – people who have never come to the Missions seeking help before, and in the first two months of this year, these numbers are already up by 10%. We're seeing more people than ever before.
It has been an exceptional few months in many ways. In December we distributed more Emergency Food Parcels than we have ever done before. On Christmas Day a record number of people attended Christmas Dinner. In the lead up to Christmas, the Calder Centre outgrew its facilities (a new clinic is due to open soon) and the number of people seeking Drug and Alcohol support continued to rise.
At the same time food stocks at the Mission were so low in the last week before Christmas, we had to purchase an additional $6,000 worth of food - just to get through.
All the while, Mission staff have continued to work on the 'big issues'. Access to affordable, appropriate housing for all Aucklanders is just one example. Mission staff work with other agencies through the Homeless Strategy to try and eliminate rough sleeping in Auckland, and, as a member of the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group, the Mission has contributed to government policy at the highest level (see Tax Newsletter).
Our focus remains with the huge number of people coming for help. To support them we need your help now more than ever.
Thank you for your on-going support.
Missioner's Dialogue, December 22 2010 - The Angels at Auckland's Table.
There are angels around Auckland. Tens of thousands of them. They’re the people who donate time, money, food, clothing, furniture and Christmas gifts, to bring some hope into the difficult lives of our most vulnerable neighbours.
Individual donors rarely get to see the difference they make. In a city the size of Auckland, it is easy to live and work almost entirely within your own socio-economic group. But the difference individual donations make for the Mission’s clients is real. It is the difference between a family having food to put on the table or going hungry. It is the difference between going to the doctor, or putting up with ill-health. It is the difference between feeling like a part of your community, or feeling isolated.
I know from personal experience what a difference a little bit of extra support can make to a family that is struggling. I grew up in small town New Zealand in the 1950s. My family was at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of the gap between us, and nearly everyone else in the town. By the time I was a teenager, I realised that our family was one of our town’s charity cases. It was humiliating. But it was made less humiliating by the unobtrusive kindness of our neighbours. They were the angels in our lives, and decades on, the grace of their actions still touches me.
Fresh fruit and vegetables arrived on the doorstep and it was made clear that we would be doing our neighbours a favour by accepting an excess of produce that would otherwise go to waste. New knitted jerseys were pressed on us – ‘I just had some wool I needed to use up – would this be of any use to you?’ School uniforms and clothes that had been ‘grown out of’ always seemed to turn up in time, just as you were growing out of the last lot of hand-me-downs.
The local grocer gave us food on credit for as long as he could, and the doctor tended our family without payment. At school, everyone got the half pint of sun-warmed milk provided by the government. For a select few of us, somehow, someone made sure that our milk was provided with sandwiches.
I’ve never forgotten the shame I felt – but I’ve also never forgotten the kindness I experienced. It continues to inspire me.
What you learn at the Mission, is how people’s lives can spin out of control. A job loss leads to a default on a loan which creates financial stress which leads to the electricity being cut off, the car being repossessed, and if you are really unlucky, eviction from your home. Tension and despair lead to violence. Addictions slowly erode your relationships with family and friends, your capacity to support yourself, and finally, your self-respect. Mental illness means you just can’t get it together.
It’s bad for you – but it’s worse for your children. So when support is put in place to deal with the big issues of housing, healthcare, debt management and income support, we also make sure that the small things are addressed. That children are able to get clothes when they need them. That they get a present at Christmas. That they have a place to come for Christmas dinner where for a few hours the pressures and pain of day-to-day life are put behind them and they can see the possibility of a different future.
That’s the difference that you, our Auckland angels, help us make.
Thank you – and Merry Christmas.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Summer
Our summer-time Christmas is one of the things I love about being a New Zealander. While the ability to build a Santa snowman is a lovely novelty, I’m a kiwi through and through, and Christmas just wouldn’t be the same if I had to ‘rug up’ every year.
In my mind's eye, I picture the next few months - filled with the sunny images of a Southern-hemisphere Christmas.
I can see the glorious Pohutukawas flashing their red blooms at the fringe of golden beaches. I can feel the moulded soles of my jandals, sparing my Winter-soft feet from a lawn filled with prickles. I can hear the laughter of children making the most of a long summer holiday. Clichéd perhaps but comforting - and oh so welcome after such a hard winter.
Along with the sunshine, comes a lift in mood, a sense of optimism and warmth towards others – all well timed for the upcoming festive season.
At the Auckland City Mission, we’re as ready as we can be for Christmas. Although low on food and gifts this year, we’ve planned as best we can and we will hand on all that we have to give.
Our preparations for Christmas Dinner are well in hand. Returning to Vector Arena for the second year lends a sense of reassurance. We’ve been there before, we know how it works - we can feed 2,000 people, perhaps more if we need to.
At the Mission itself, the team have been preparing for the rush that comes in the lead up to Christmas. With so many people arriving at the Mission at this time of the year, we are less concerned with ‘why or how’ they came to be here, we’ll just put our heads down and focus on what they need to get though.
Everyone deserves just a little bit of magic at Christmas-time, whether that’s help putting food on the table or a gift to go under the tree. Whatever we have we’ll pass on and, with your help, we’ll do our best to ensure that every Aucklander can enjoy our sunny, summer Christmas.
Merry Christmas to us all.
Christmas Newsletter 2010
I saw Katie* come into the Mission on that first day. She clung to her grandma’s leg and poked her head around the side of her thigh, shielding her eyes behind her fringe. She was shy and uncomfortable, but as my eyes rose to her Grandma’s face I saw a tension that was far more urgent.
Katie’s grandma, Rose*, was visibly upset. She’d struggled with illness this winter and the bills had mounted. She was coping – most of the time – but now she acknowledged she really did need some help. Her head was low, she avoided making eye contact, tears welled behind her lashes.
Rose had come to ask for a food parcel. She was embarrassed, awkward, intensely uncomfortable. She was a proud woman and asking for help was far from easy.
We spent time with Rose. She already had a budget and was working hard to stick to it. Things would get better in a few months.
Rather than just give her one food parcel, we agreed, that by helping Rose with food over the next 5 weeks, she would be able to generate a bit of a buffer and take a little pressure off.
I wasn’t there when Katie and Rose came back 3 months later, but the team told me of her return. Rose had come to fill in a volunteer form. She wanted to say thank you and had nothing to give but her time – and so she’s volunteered to help – anything we need.
On Christmas Day when Katie and the rest of the family arrive at Vector Arena for Christmas Dinner, Rose will already be there, helping to set up tables for the 2,000 people in our family who will be joining us to celebrate Christmas as a community.
Wherever you are this Christmas, however you choose to mark the day we encourage you to reach out and touch someone else. Give just a little of yourself and put a little magic back into Christmas.
On behalf of everyone at the Auckland City Mission, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a sunny, happy summer.
(* Names have been changed.)
Missioner's Comment, June 25 2010
After an unusually mild autumn, winter has made a dramatic entrance. Storms have swept over the entire country closing roads and flooding communities. Farmers have been relocating and rescuing stock and emergency services have been called on to clear roads, secure buildings and evacuate residents.
In our own homes, many of us will already have had to deal with flooded gutters or call plumbers to unblock over-flowing drains. Heaters have been turned on and winter coats, rain jackets and umbrellas have become an everyday accessory.
We all find winter harder - it's harder to keep warm; harder to dry clothes and bedding; harder to get outside and do things; harder to keep healthy; and harder to keep expenses down.
For families on low incomes, winter is even more difficult. Families who come to the Mission for emergency food parcels are already struggling to pay the power bill - turning on more heaters to warm a cold room is not an option.
When a family is struggling the most vulnerable are children. Statistics released this year show that 28% of New Zealand children live in families with incomes less than 60% of the median wage. This amounts to approximately 300,000 people aged under 15 years - nearly a third of the children in New Zealand. The effects can be profound and may last well into adulthood, influencing health, educational attainment, addiction rates, and criminal activity.
With the help of our supportive community the Mission will provide emergency food, warm clothing, bedding, wet weather gear and shoes to children and adults to help them get through the coming months - but the Mission does more than that.
Auckland City Mission is committed to helping families, as a unit, create long-term positive change. A simple hand-out that has people coming back time and time again is merely a band-aid. Instead of just 'patching' the problem, Auckland City Mission works with families and individuals to try and achieve on-going improvements in their lifestyle, health, wellbeing and independence.
Thanks to the generous help of this community we are able to keep our warehouse stocked with food, clothing and household items. Then the Mission is able to use those precious financial donations to provide the professional expertise and support that so many are looking for. This is where 75% of the Mission's income is used.
It costs a lot for us to stay true to our organisational vision, but we all know it's money well spent. Auckland City Mission is, and will remain, committed to providing help when it's needed most while at the same time striving to help families and individuals achieve positive long-term change. It's what we believe is truly important.
March Newsletter 2010
Over 60,000 people were made redundant in the past twelve months. Paul was one of those. His wife Jo was eight months pregnant at the time.
Jo and Paul are ordinary New Zealanders. Paul worked in construction and Jo was working in an early childhood centre. They lived in a middle class suburb close to their children's school and kindergarten.
In July 2009 Jo was pregnant with their third child, when Paul was made redundant.
Initially they lived off their savings and Paul applied for any jobs that were available. Jo stayed at work up until the time the baby was born. Struggling to meet their rental costs they decided to move to a less expensive house. By the time they had paid their bond and moving costs their savings had disappeared.
Jo arrived at the City Mission at Christmas time with the children's birth certificates, her bank statements and their rental details. Her request was simple - could she please have some presents for her children. When asked if we could help with a food parcel to get them through Christmas, Jo broke down in tears. She didn't want to be greedy, she said. She worried that others were in more need than she was.
Statistics don't tell the real story of how families struggle - of the despair and the embarrassment of asking for charity to feed your children. People don't come to the Mission because it's an easy option, but there aren't many of us that could survive for long on savings alone.
Christmas is over, but Paul and Jo are still fighting to re-build their lives. There are school fees, books, uniforms and shoes to be paid for. The Mission will continue to support Paul and Jo until they are on their feet again. Sliding into a hole is easy, climbing back out is hard.
Missioner's Comment, January 25 2010
Another Christmas is over. Compared to 2008, nearly twice as many people made their way through the Missions doors seeking assistance over this Christmas period. Staff distributed thousands of gifts, hundreds of food parcels and hosted the country's largest community Christmas Dinner.
At the Mission, things are a little quieter now and the initial clean up is nearly complete. The aprons and table cloths have been washed and put away again ready for next year and the Christmas Appeal is over.
As the stress and excitement of Christmas winds down, it is possible to forget that throughout this 'crazy' time the Mission has continued to provide a full range of support services - services that are provided 365 days of every year; supports that cost in excess of $3.2million annually to provide.
While the Missions Christmas Appeal was successful, it will only go part of the way to cover these costs. As staff constantly review services offered, we also try to address one of the more challenging aspects faced by not-for-profits as we attempt to balance the needs of our community with the limited resources available. With so much of our income sourced from fundraising it can be hard to commit to service development, expansion, or even continuation, when the income streams are not guaranteed.
The Government's new legislation to facilitate Payroll Giving is a positive light in this challenging environment. The commitment to regular giving, of any value, helps to provide a not-for-profit with income it can predict - a key element in managing budgets.
As we take the time now to review, re-assess and plan our services for the next 12 months, we hope that our generous supporters may do similarly. We urge you to make the effort to look at the options provided by Payroll Giving. Mission staff would welcome the opportunity to talk to your team about why this initiative is so important and how their contribution can help make Auckland a more caring place to live - every day.
Read more about Payroll Giving, or email the Fundraising Team.
Missioner's Dialogue, Wednesday 16 December 2009
It’s coming on Christmas
It’s that time of year when all conversations begin with ‘are you organised for Christmas yet?”.
Everyone seems to be thinking about who to buy gifts for, how much to spend, and where the dinner will be held. The debates are starting about who gets to put the star on the Christmas tree. How to split the day between his family, and hers. The planning about where to put the cousins coming up from Wellington, and which child has to share a bedroom for three whole days. Finding the family member who will be the sober driver and pick up and deliver other members of the whanau to and from dinner. The development of a new strategy to make sure that the favourite uncle gets enough wine to remain merry but not so much that he falls asleep during dinner and upsets the favourite aunt. The discussions about who will host the grumpy family member who lives alone but welcomes the opportunity to come to Christmas dinner and find the chicken too dry and the pudding too sweet. It happens every year, and every year, somehow, hopefully, we make it through with relationships intact, and maybe even some special new family memories.
Christmas for our team at the Mission has the same challenges, but on a larger scale. Our ‘house’ for Christmas Dinner has been the Town Hall for many years, which comfortably held the 1500 members of our Mission family. But our family is growing. This year we expect to host around 2000 people so our Christmas Dinner will be held at a bigger ‘house’, the Vector Arena.
We’re dusting off all our Christmas trees and our table decorations so the Arena will look beautiful. We’re wrapping presents for children for whom the present they get at our Christmas dinner might be the only present they get all year. We’re planning how to make sure the older members of our Mission family get to dinner, those elderly Aucklanders whose families live far away, who might otherwise spend the day alone. We’re worrying about how many chickens are needed to feed 2,000 people, and how many tins of fruit salad. We want to give our family, all the people we work with during the year, a day which brings the best spirit of Christmas to life. It’s always a big day, and with the help of my team and hundreds of volunteers we get through it.
It is a great joy to see a child, who might have woken up in a house in which ordinary life consists of too little food, too little attention, and too much exposure to violence and alcohol and drugs, have a special day with plenty of food and fun and even a present or two. To sit with an elderly person sharing a meal with others for the first time in a year is a humbling experience and to watch homeless people join with families to celebrate Christmas reminds me of the meaning of Christmas. That’s what keeps us all coming back to our family dinner, year after year. These are still uncertain times. What is certain, is that it is worth putting the effort we put in each year to make Christmas happen. Christmas reminds us that as long as we have people in our lives that we care about, we are rich. It’s time to celebrate
"We are now a robust and financially accountable organisation with wide-ranging programmes responding to the needs of those who are disadvantaged. The larger our city grows the more people we will see marginalised and disenfranchised. The Auckland City Mission is committed to continuing to advocate on their behalf and provide essential social services. We are especially concerned that all New Zealand children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This means dealing with the social issues stemming from poverty and lack of housing. Our innovative inner city housing and community intiiative is a step towards addressing these issues."
Diane Robertson, Auckland City Missioner
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