Update on the Lifewise Merge Community Team

The Lifewise Merge Community Team continues to flourish, particularly as the team’s skills and capabilities grow through training and practice. The team are soon to recruit new volunteers to the team from the wider homeless community.

The Merge Community team is about to undergo significant staffing changes. The current Programme Lead, Sophia Beaton, is on 12 months parental leave from 13 July. Justine McFarlane has been employed to cover this period of parental leave. Justine brings extensive experience around design, innovation, and working across sectors and with local communities. She has just finished leading design and implementation work at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) with the building financial capability services work. She also has experience on the business side, working in the business sector in the early part of her career and establishing her own business. Recently she developed knowledge of social enterprise working on the development of the “Generator” which is the MSD’s new initiative around community action for social enterprise.

Margaret Lewis was also recently employed as the Community Capacity Builder to help build and grow the social enterprise work. Finding the right person for this position was challenging – Merge Community underwent two rounds of recruitment to find the right person. The position requires the candidate to have two unique set of skills; social enterprise and business development skills, as well as empathy and an ability to work from a community-led perspective. Margaret is employed for a six month period, while Merge evaluates more deeply what will be needed in that space.

The Merge Community Team volunteer coordinator has also recently moved into a business development role with Merge Café. They are in process of employing someone into this position. Lifewise’s Project Specialist is supporting the peer team in the interim.

The following provides a brief report on Merge Community Team’s progress against the three areas of work over the previous six months:

  1. Strengthen and grow the leadership and capabilities of the Merge Community Team
  2. Build the capacity and capability of the homeless community
  3. Build and develop the voice of the wider homeless community

1. Strengthen and grow the leadership and capabilities of the Merge Community Team

Support and advocacy – The Peer Support team in Merge café continue to grow their skills and capabilities through the provision of drop-in peer to peer support. The team of volunteers are based at Merge Café from 10am – 12 noon Monday – Friday. On average the volunteers are supporting 3-5 people per day. The support provided includes:

  • Advocacy (particularly with Work and Income)
  • Navigational support – informing people where else they might go to get help
  • Information and on-the-spot advice
  • Social support – just being a listening ear

Funding and training – Merge Community Team have secured further funding from ANZ to support the continued supervision of the team through Mind and Body (an expert organisation in peer to peer support). With this funding, they will also provide a further training programme for 10 – 12 new people with lived experience of homelessness.

Building a stronger, more effective team – The Merge Community Team have just completed a twelve month review and are currently working through a process to explore ways to improve the following:

  • how to have more impact for the wider whānau
  • team dynamics
  • meetings and processes
  • employment pathways and opportunities

Onwards and upwards – Two Merge Community Volunteers have left the team to pursue new employment opportunities. One person is currently employed part-time while the other person has found full time employment.

2.  Build the capacity and capability of the homeless community


Opportunities for upskilling – The Merge Community Team have had several opportunities to develop and grow their range of skills through training and development, such as;

  • Four week facilitation training and coaching to grow and develop their facilitation skills
  • Participation in the Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) advocacy training programme
  • Boundaries and ethics training through Mind and Body

Kai on K-Road – The Merge Community Team continue to lead and grow the cross-cultural K Road cooking initiative that invites local chefs and cooks from the community (including homeless community) to share their culinary skills. Kai on K Road occurs every second Wednesday and is a highlight for many people in the community. This initiative provides a platform for people to share their skills, but also to connect with others in the wider community, breaking down judgements and stereotypes. Check it out on Facebook here!

Building social enterprise – The Merge Community Team led and delivered a human centred design insights contract to understand the experience of women who are sleeping rough in the inner city. Through this contract they were able to employ three women with lived experience of homelessness as casual employees to carry out this piece of work. This project has also built the capability and skills of these women in co-design practice.

Kai on Queen Street – One member of the Merge Community team is developing his own enterprise known as Kai on Queen Street, where lunches are delivered to the staff at Queen Street from Merge Café where he charges a small delivery fee.

Earning through art – The Piki Project is a social enterprise that harnesses the creative skills of the wider homeless community and the technology of the Unitec design school to create piki (one-off artisan feather-like adornments). Each piki is then sold by street vendors on the streets in the Auckland city centre.

The piki project was designed to enable people who hustle/beg an alternative way to generate income in a way that is flexible. The team itself have created several prototypes, both paper and wooden and sold these in various ways – on the street, at markets, at events (through K Road Business association). The Piki team are exploring opportunities for selling creative works in lots of different contexts (markets etc). Read more about it here!

The Urban Hīkoi – this is another social enterprise project that provides hīkoi (walks) around the city centre for leadership and professional development for corporate organisation. The hīkoi are facilitated by people with lived experience of homelessness who highlight the realities of homelessness, break down misconceptions and build empathy. The team have completed a second contract, with Vodafone and completed a hīkoi for 35 of their new graduate staff. There are other corporate groups keen to participate in the hīkoi. The team have decided to strengthen the business model before progressing.

The Urban Hīkoi team have been working with Akina and will be part of their Social Sabbatical Course in early July. The Social Sabbatical provides three people from different corporate organisation to help us focus on the development of this social enterprise. The team will focus on exploring the market potential and developing a business plan for the Urban Hīkoi.

3. Build and develop the voice of the wider homeless community


Auckland’s Homeless Count  – Three of the Merge Community Team members are now core members of the Ira Mata, Ira Tangata (Auckland’s Homeless Count) Advisory Group. The Advisory Group is made up of organisations from within the homelessness sector as well as the three people with lived experience to help plan, coordinate and implement the Count. Read more about it on Facebook.

Synthetic Cannabis Hui – The Merge Community team hosted a synthetic cannabis hui with the support of the NZ Police, St John Ambulance, and the Community Action Youth and Drugs Team at Auckland Council. The purpose of the hui was to:

  • raise awareness of synthetic use in the community
  • provide information on what to do in an emergency
  • provide information on where else to go for help and explore community action

Housing First – The Merge Community Team have secured funding to provide governance training and support for members of the Housing First governance group. Sophia has presented our approach of involving people with lived experience in several forums, including the national homelessness conference hosted by the New Zealand Coalition to End Homelessness.

The team was asked to present to the Christchurch Housing First Project team on ways to include people with lived experience of homelessness in their Housing First programme. Part of that presentation included the diagram above, which highlighted (in pink) all the ways in which people with lived experience are included in Lifewise response to homelessness.