It was her own experiences and her passion for helping others that encouraged Renee Kingi to seek change for those without a home.
Having endured abuse from a young age, Renee has not only managed to rebuild her life but has set up a transitional homeless shelter called Papatūānuku Support Services to help others do the same.
The service was established in July 2021 and recently received a funding boost of $70,000 from Rotorua Trust to help set up a communal hub within its transitional housing facility.
The hub will help connect whānau to required services, addressing their social, emotional, educational, and physical needs while in the accommodation.
Kingi regularly meets with like-minded groups working with the homeless in Rotorua to share the services they’re providing and how they can collectively help.
Some of these groups include Save Our Babies, Women’s Refuge, Te Korowai Collective and others.
“It takes a village, we can’t do it alone so it’s important we all come together to help. By bringing the services together, we’re able to ensure whānau get the support they need so they don’t come back through the system later on.”
The accommodation and communal hub will eventually include a kitchen and dining area which will operate with a marae-style philosophy bringing whānau together for meals, programme delivery and education. When the kitchen is complete, Kingi aims to connect with Feeding Rotorua and others who provide kai within our community.
“We think of it as how a marae works, everyone has a purpose and is connected. We want our Rotorua whānau to feel that too. We want these different groups to come in and offer their services so we can all work together to help.”
Kingi says she is particularly focused on the transitional period.
“We need to take baby steps to make whānau feel safe in our accommodation because some of them have a different perception of what home feels like – it’s not always a safe place as many of these people have experienced domestic and/or sexual abuse.
“I help because of my own experience; I looked into studying social work as a way of helping others as I was going through my healing. It has been a lifelong dream to set this up.”
Kingi has worked at three shelters across Rotorua and Tauranga.
“I was put into a shelter in Rotorua for my first placement as a social worker and never looked back.“
Her long-term plan is to use the 35 acres of land she has to set up an additional transitional housing retreat.
“We would be able to spend time there with our groups, working with hapū, iwi and whānau to help set up what we need. We would allow those in housing to build on our land while in transition and they could then move their house to other land later. Whānau need to be empowered to find a final home.”
Kingi says the funding from the Trust will help achieve her vision of helping those who need support.
“The funding has pushed us forward over the Christmas period and has made us feel like we are in a safe position. It has been like a breath of fresh air.”
Rotorua Trust Chairman Stewart Edward says by building up whānau in this space, the whole community will be strengthened.
“Renee and her team will help Rotorua’s homeless and those in need of support significantly. We believe this is an important kaupapa that will have a positive flow-on effect on our community as a whole.”