A Day in the Life of Te Hāpai

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Te Hāpai is just one part of the incredible work DCM gets up to in central Wellington. For those who have been sleeping rough on these cold winter's nights, it's an essential part of their morning routine. Here's an insight into what life at Te Hāpai looks like.

It is a miserable day in the city of Wellington. People who have been sleeping rough overnight are waiting in Te Āro Park and in the marae ātea at DCM, greeting kaimahi as they arrive and catching up with one another.

At 9am, the day begins as always with waiata and karakia in the marae ātea, for taumai, kaimahi and others. This morning, the DCM team and eight-or-nine taumai are joined by several others: the dentist who is taking a dental session at DCM this morning and her dental assistant; two of the Te Aro Health Centre team who operate a clinic at DCM; one of the Wellington City Council local hosts; two workers from other agencies who are working collaboratively with DCM to support two taumai with complex needs, and a handful of others who are about to attend meetings at DCM. Accompanied by one staff member with a guitar and another with a ukulele, everyone enjoys being part of an uplifting rendition of Rerenga Wairua. Just around the corner, several other taumai observe the waiata from a distance. A couple of staff from the businesses in Lukes Lane step outside their doors to listen to the singing. Several taumai remove their beanies and bow their heads as they join in the karakia that follows.

After the karakia, the doors are opened and a group of men who have been rough sleeping head straight up to Te Hāpai for a warm drink, something to eat and a catch up with their community. Fabian has everything set up for hot drinks, and checks that there is enough food for everyone. Today there is a selection of items from the Pandoro Panetteria, along with some sweet treats which have just been dropped off by one of the women from the Good Bitches Baking Cooperative. He passes the food around, greeting each person by name. 

Fabian does not recognise one man and he introduces himself, offers to make him a cup of coffee, and sits down beside him for some kōrero. The man’s name is Jason and he has recently arrived from Auckland. Jason has not been to DCM before and Fabian explains how things work at Te Hāpai and points out Natalia, the DCM social worker on duty this morning. Natalia asks Jason about himself, how long he has been in Wellington and where he has been living. They begin to talk about getting Jason’s name on the social housing register and Natalia takes him aside in to the meeting room, so that they can explore this further.

Sharon uses DCM’s money management service. She has come upstairs to use one of the computers in the Te Hāpai computer hub while she waits for her cheque to be ready at 10am. Joanne greets her and points out the posters which have just gone up, giving details of DCM’s Mātariki meal. Sharon had been talking with Joanne last week about how much she enjoyed a hāngī during her childhood “up north”.

Nāku te, rourou, nāu te, rourou, ka ora ai te iwi – " With your basket and my basket the people will live"

Nāku te, rourou, nāu te, rourou, ka ora ai te iwi – "With your basket and my basket the people will live"


Joanne has written a whakatauki up on the whiteboard. Mark asks her what it means. Two taumai have been sitting together doing the crossword from today’s newspaper. One of them jumps up and joins in the kōrero about the whakatauki. He shares his thoughts. Joanne adds some words about the meaning of the whakatauki to the whiteboard.

She explains by pointing to different taumai who are there and talking about their strengths – “you are good at sewing; you are a great cook; you can show others how to use the computers. These are things that you have in your basket, things that you can share.” The group then begin to talk about what they are good at, what they know about, who taught them the skills they have. Joanne listens carefully, picking up new things about some of the people that she hasn’t known before.

Downstairs at DCM, Alan is the duty social worker. Alan is speaking with Hoani, who has come to DCM for the first time. Hoani is sleeping rough and doesn’t have any ID. Alan discusses what needs to happen to get an ID, makes a few calls and sets up an appointment at Work and Income. It is cold outside and when Al tells him about Te Hāpai and offers to take him upstairs to introduce him to people there, Hoani is keen to know more.

Upstairs at Te Hāpai, Hoani is introduced to Fabian and Joanne. He tells them that he has had a really bad night. He has a lot of pain in his mouth and seems to have an abscess. Joanne calls downstairs to Matt to let him know that Hoani is up at Te Hāpai and would really benefit from seeing the dentist, if any spaces become available at this morning’s session.

Natalia finishes speaking with Jason and comes back out into the central space. As Jason comes out with her, Fabian greets him and shows him the map of Aotearoa New Zealand on the wall. He asks Jason where he is from, and has him place a pin in the map. They note that several other taumai come from that area. One of them is using a computer at Te Hāpai, and Fabian is able to introduce him to Jason. 


The DCM team have been speaking with small groups of taumai at Te Hāpai each day about the current government enquiry into mental health and addictions. Natalia explains that this is an opportunity for them to have their say and to give the government their feedback. She asks them to think about themselves or someone they know who has had issues with mental health or addictions. They begin to talk; the group is keen to share their own personal experiences. They go on to discuss the kind of message they would like to send to the government. Several say that they want to be understood, not just given medication. “I don’t want to be a zombie; I don’t like being on this medication.”

Joanne talks about a member of her whānau who is not well, about the things they found difficult when dealing with professionals. Mark begins to share about whānau not wanting to know him, being in hospital or jail and coming out, having nobody to go to, only DCM. “I would never have got in to my new whare without DCM,” he says. Natalia encourages everyone to write down their stories or have Joanne write them down for them, so that they can be shared with the government enquiry.

Matt has popped up to Te Hāpai to find Hoani. Hoani has been sitting quietly, observing the group who are talking about the mental health review. He is clearly uncomfortable, and not wanting to join in. Matt tells him that one of the booked dental appointments at DCM has not shown up, and the dentist is able to see Hoani immediately. Hoani is thrilled. He grabs his backpack and heads downstairs with Matt.

The computer hub is full: taumai are checking in with whānau and friends in other areas via facebook and email, and enjoying YouTube clips. One woman is checking bus times for a trip to Porirua and a couple of people are chatting about a map they have up on screen. Ula has come up with one man to show him how to use My MSD; a couple of others begin to ask her some questions. Ula encourages one of them to come downstairs with her to follow up on an issue he has raised.


As the morning draws to a close, the weather has cleared and several taumai bid their farewells and head off together. Others pick up the guitars, and an impromptu music session begins. DCM kaimahi Alan has come upstairs to check in with two men who he has been working with. He reminds them that they have meetings coming up which he will attend with them and confirms the details. Then, like Fabian, he picks up a guitar and joins in. The music is uplifting; taumai who do not play the guitar pull up a chair to listen, suggesting songs they might like to hear. When Al heads back downstairs for a meeting, the others begin to put away the guitars and grab one last cup of coffee. Fabian stacks the dishwasher, wipes down the tables and sweeps the floor.

It is 1pm, and Te Hāpai is about to close. The last few taumai pack up their belongings and prepare to leave. Natalia asks them what they have planned for the afternoon. Two are off to the library for warmth and shelter. Another one has a meeting with CADS, and is pleased that Alan is going along with him to support him. “You and Al are doing some great work together, aren’t you?” says Natalia.

Jason says he doesn’t have anything planned. Natalia reminds him of their conversation. “If you can spend the afternoon gathering up the items we talked about, especially your ID, and a bank statement, then we can finish your application to Wellington City Housing tomorrow.” The last few taumai head down the stairs together, out in to the marae ātea and on down Lukes Lane.

It is a busy lunchtime in Wellington city.  Back in Te Āro Park, several people who have spent the morning at Te Hāpai stand together, rolling cigarettes and talking with another taumai who has been waiting in the park with his dog. They call out to a couple of DCM staff members who are heading out to buy some lunch. “Ka kite”; “See you tomorrow”.