The four permanent residents of this supported housing complex in a quiet Napier street never miss an opportunity to celebrate life.
Ahuriri is run by the WIT (Whatever it Takes) Trust Inc, which is committed to providing safe, affordable housing to people who might otherwise ‘fall through the cracks’.
It's home to Iain Davis (far left), Christopher Longley (second from right), Christopher Hilton (centre, also known as ‘Mr Hilton’) and Thomas Winitana (far right) who each have their own two-bedroom unit.
Thomas’s carport has been turned into his man cave and Iain is the one in charge of the vege garden. There’s a shared laundry out back. Taz the cat roams freely, sometimes eyeing the goldfish bowl in the lounge of Flat 1, their communal gathering place. From its tiny kitchen a rostered staff of three (one per eight hour shift), produces nutritious meals. There’s also a small admin office and a bedroom with ensuite for guests or anyone who needs to just chill out.
Most of the men have lived at Ahuriri since the complex opened in 2012, coming there from another supported living centre. They have the option to stay as long as they want to.
“We roll as a whānau – it’s just like an extended family and I’m fortunate to have staff who share that kaupapa,” says Ahuriri’s kaihautu (leader), Anne Newland (pictured right of Mr Hilton).
Anne and her staff are like ‘mothering angels’ to the residents, helping to bring dignity and purpose to lives that are challenged by chronic mental health conditions, brain injury or substance addiction. Some of the guys have been able to reduce their medication since coming to Ahuriri and others no longer need clinical services.
For Anne, who has a background in addiction counselling, routines and mahi (work) are the key to wellbeing and recovery. There is also a culture of respect for the mana of the residents.
“This is their home – we are the visitors,” she says of her staff.
Fellow ‘angel’ Nikki Luke (pictured second left), who usually does the afternoon shift, has a passion for mental health, particularly with helping families have a better understanding of mental health conditions.
“Nikki puts her heart and soul into her work and gives a lot of her free time,” says senior resident Iain, who turns 60 next birthday. Together they’ve recently completed a health and safety certificate which sees Iain ensuring heaters are turned off at night and checking for other safety hazards.
Daytimes are filled with activities, with the residents being chauffeured across town in the Ahuriri people-mover by one of the support staff.
Currently they’re all doing a Living Well workshop (about living a healthy life with chronic conditions). They also regularly meet and support other friends within the mental health consumer community largely through WIT’s Lighthouse day centre programmes or activities at its Whare Manaia Centre.
There’s their evening tai chi class, Te Reo Māori, a walking group, ten-pin bowling and, particularly for Thomas who is into sports, touch rugby, and basketball at the new Hastings stadium.
Spring and summer are times for fishing expeditions, swimming at the nearby beach and waka ama. The group tells how Mr Hilton conquered his fear of water last year and is now a proud member of the waka ama crew. As a group they’ve also raised funds within the local community to finance a couple of short holidays to Gisborne and Taupo.
What may seem like small achievements are sometimes big steps in creating meaningful and connected lives.
“We do a lot of celebrating,” Anne says. “We have graduations when the guys come back with their certificates from courses and we invite their families. Whanau connection is important and we keep that going strong. We celebrate birthdays and go out for a meal, just to have that experience of going to a really nice place.”
For Nikki, Ahuriri is a place of personal growth.
“I come to work every day and I learn lessons. These guys are my teachers.”
Anne says the key to maintaining wellness for the Ahuriri residents is the wraparound 24/7 care philosophy.
“It’s a big mahi,” she adds, “but there’s lots of aroha.”
This story is part of a series exploring different living arrangements for seniors. The Going it together series is one way the Mental Health Foundation helps people prepare for a later life that has meaning, purpose and joy.