VisionWest had its beginnings in Glen Eden Baptist Church. Today it is one of the largest not-for-profit community trusts in New Zealand, but it still holds tightly to its faith-based roots and its connection to the church. We asked CEO Lisa Woolley to tell us what VisionWest has been up recently, their plans for the future, and what she believes is behind the trust’s continued growth.
The last 12 months have seen exciting developments for VisionWest, with greater opportunities to connect and support the local community, especially in the area of homelessness.
Out of this flows stories of transformation in people’s lives, such as that of Leanne and Sione. After living for three years without secure housingfor them and their six young children, they were housed through VisionWest last year. Leanne said that having a house means, “having a stable environment for the girls where I know I can try and prevent them from being sick, and not moving around or being constantly worried about where we are going to stay next week.”
VisionWest is part of the Housing First collective,which brings together several organisations to work collaboratively in making safe, secure tenancies a reality for Auckland whānau who have been experiencing homelessness.
The Housing First model works along the lines VisionWest already had in practice. It provides whānau with a support navigator who walks alongside them as they work through other challenges they are experiencing, as well as assisting them to obtain and maintain a tenancy. Issues of poverty are also tackled as the Housing First tenant is able to access income-related rent, paying no more than 25% of their income on rent.
“Providing someone to come alongside and support whānau in their journey is key to seeing growth and positive change in individuals and families. Transformation comes when whānau are housed in safe, healthy and affordable housing, as they then have the capacity to start to tackle other challenges they are facing,” says Lisa.
Another new development for VisionWest is being part of the first, purpose-built, emergency housing facility in Otahuhu, Auckland. This project is a collaborative effort with other faith-based housing providers, the Salvation Army and Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, and is funded by the Government. VisionWest has also moved into providing support for Housing New Zealand tenants in both Auckland and Christchurch, working with these tenants to assist them to maintain their tenancy when this is at risk.
“Working collectively with other community organisations with shared values and understanding has been an incredibly enriching experience, as we seek to see a little of God’s kingdom here on earth, through showing aroha and compassion and walking with those in our community who are homeless and living in poverty,” says Lisa.
Engaging effectively with Māori and honouring the Treaty of Waitangi through working to a kaupapa Māori framework was another key area of focus for VisionWest last year. This journey led to the creation of a new position on the executive management team of a Head of Māori Service Development, which has been ably filled by Fred Astle. Fred has gathered together a Taumata Māori Leadership group whose guidance Lisa says has been invaluable as they work towards supporting whānau in a culturally embracing way.
The purchase of the final regional office of the Salvation Army HomeCare business took place in July 2017. This now places VisionWest as the fourth largest homecare provider in New Zealand. VisionWest sees this as an opportunity not only to support older people, people with disabilities and the vulnerable to live in their own homes, but it is also an opportunity to offer employment and training to a large number of people in the community. Through the VisionWest Baptist HomeCare service, there are now offices in Hamilton, Rotorua and Tauranga in addition to Auckland, which may open up other opportunities to partner with groups and churches who are reaching out to support their community.
Plans for 2018
In the coming year VisionWest's plans include the development and operation of a community free store for excess food (in addition to the current food bank services), out of school programmes for vulnerable young people, and furthering work with the Housing First model. VisionWest will also continue to provide its other regular services, such as budgeting advice, counselling, return-to-work support, social work, education (early childhood, youth, adult literacy and numeracy), housing and homecare.
“We’ve never been about VisionWest or our growth. It’s about the needs of the people we walk alongside in the community,” says Lisa. “’Together we can do more,’ has been our catchcry as we know that we cannot do this work alone. Funders, businesses who provide employment for our course participants, donors of food, bedding, furniture and curtains, and landlords who rent their homes to our whānau—these partnerships are vital for the continued growth of VisionWest as well as meeting the day-to-day needs.
“Part of ensuring we can continue to meet those needs and provide ongoing quality support for whanau is our regular review and evaluation of service delivery and effectiveness. This also provides data that is used for advocacy with government and non‑government agencies.
“It is interesting when you listen and discern what God is calling you to do that the window of opportunity will be there. I can think of so many times I’ve been in meetings where God has stirred my heart and the Holy Spirit has whispered to me and it is the birth of something. It’s that listening and discerning. I believe what God has built here is through being able to hear the voice of God. It’s got God’s breath on it.”
Story: Lisa Woolley
Lisa is CEO of VisionWest Community Trust and President of the New Zealand Council for Christian Social Services. She has a Masters in Social Practice. Lisa and husband Mark have been members of Glen Eden Baptist Church for more than 35 years.