De Paul House and the Tindall family’s relationship predates the existence of The Tindall Foundation (TTF), which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year (2020). Margaret Tindall has volunteered at De Paul House every Tuesday for 27 years — in the early days she used to take her young son along with her too — and understands from first-hand experience the value of their work. She and Stephen are strong advocates for social justice and both organisations’ values have been closely aligned from the beginning.

What is the aim?

TTF’s work prioritises whānau/families who experience long-term disadvantage and exclusion. De Paul House provides transitional housing and a range of support programmes for families who may otherwise be homeless. TTF has provided support, advice, planning and catalyst funding with the aim of helping De Paul House achieve stability, so it could plan and develop for the long term and ensure its services were able to respond appropriately to the needs of families well into the future.

How does it work?

De Paul House began life in 1986 as a temporary facility to house disadvantaged families who suddenly found themselves with nowhere to live. The faith-based charity has evolved considerably over time and now provides housing and support services for up to 38 families at a time. During the past 34 years it has assisted nearly 4000 individuals to move into permanent accommodation.

In almost all cases, families encountering hardship need more than just permanent housing in order to address the issues that have led them to become homeless. De Paul House’s family support programme includes the provision of food, clothing and furniture, as well as budgeting services, parenting classes, social work support and counselling. It provides a Learning Centre where all members of the family are welcome, and runs a supervised club for school-aged children with access to Wi-Fi, stationery, printing and computer resources.

De Paul House also runs an Early Childhood Centre (ECC) that helps prepare children for school and provides opportunities to develop parenting skills. Staff and 70 volunteers offer all of these services in a safe and dignified environment to help families re-establish themselves in the community.

What has been achieved?

In 2010 TTF helped fund a significant rebuilding programme that included the purpose-built ECC and Learning Centre, which have become the community hubs. Beyond this funding, Stephen provided overall support and insights to foster a business model that could extend the capability of the existing facility — components that are the foundation for what De Paul House is able to offer today.

“Without the facilities or TTF funding we wouldn’t have been able to develop a residential programme, which is our core strength,” says Jan Rutledge, De Paul House Manager. “It’s about housing, but also about upskilling our families to sustain housing and education once we help them find permanent accommodation.”

The Early Childhood Centre is more than just an educational facility. It’s a connection to local schools and a supportive learning environment that provides comfort, kindness and structure to children and their parents. The ECC helps create a stable relationship so parents are not afraid of building relationships with teachers.

Many De Paul House families haven’t typically fitted into mainstream education or been to an early childhood centre before. ECC at De Paul House offers a learning environment where mums are encouraged to stay and observe trained staff and volunteers working with their children (over half the families are mothers with children and while welcome, fathers are often absent). If mums can be upskilled, they can gain the tools needed to stay in permanent accommodation.

“Our parents need to be able to complete a CV or a work application, but to do that they have to be literate and understand English. Some of our people have remarkably good skills, they are incredibly good budgeters, but they just don’t have enough money. So it’s about taking them right back to the basics and building those blocks up. Our parents love their children, but they just don’t have the tools or in many cases the resources to give them what most of New Zealand considers to be basic human rights.” — Jan Rutledge

De Paul House’s wraparound and outreach services include literacy and budgeting classes, plus food classes where certificates can be earned and attached to CVs to help parents find work. A nine-week digital class is offered where participants are able to buy a heavily subsided Chromebook to help bridge the increasing digital divide. These services are all designed to support, educate and help families to get themselves back in the community — giving people the confidence to take the next step and building up a sense that, together, things can be changed.

“The layers need to be peeled away and trust needs to be built,” Jan says. “You can almost see the change physically. Our families come to us when they’ve hit rock bottom. This is not where anybody wants to be, but then they’ll start to realise that people are there to help them and they’ll start looking you in the eye — that’s the key.”

Staff and volunteers create a sense of welcoming, warmth and belonging for families. Strong connections are made between them and De Paul House families, and many return years later to visit. “One child who went through our residential programme comes back to mow our lawns — he wants to give back,” recounts Jan. “He is completing a building apprenticeship, and another child from the same family is now studying — that gives both our families and our team a great sense of pride and satisfaction.”

What has been learnt?

De Paul House has listened and learnt along the way. They’ve learnt that the families who come through their doors require much more than just transitional housing. That’s why De Paul House has developed a programme where, if they are unable to house a family, they will support them to navigate their way through New Zealand’s complex housing system (which can involve up to three government departments). That can be extremely stressful if English is a second language and families lack access to a computer or the Internet, let alone knowledge of how to use them.

Technology and partnerships are key. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic lockdown De Paul House was at near capacity with 91 children, 44 adults and four newborn babies. Every adult was given the use of a portable modem and digital device to keep essential communication lines open during an extremely challenging period thanks to a partnership with Spark and the 20/20 Trust.

New Zealand traditionally builds houses for smaller, nuclear families, not usually the families that come through the door at De Paul House. So they are working now with government focus groups, and have a voice at the table with Kāinga Ora and Ministry of Social Development, providing insights and data to help the transitional housing sector.

Hopes and dreams

De Paul House aims to see bigger homes becoming available to accommodate larger families. They are currently working on a programme to give access to driving lessons, as a driver’s licence can often open the pathway to employment, especially for young people.

By constantly working towards improving their services as they see further needs arise, and working with other agencies, De Paul House is doing its bit to make sure families in New Zealand thrive.