Nobody knows who I am or why I'm here but when I walk into the warmth of Tauawhi Men's Centre I'm greeted with smiles and offered a cup of tea and a biscuit. There are a variety of people in the spacious lounge-like space and I can tell it's the kind of place that invites you to tell your story, to people who are ready to hear it, with no judgment. I'm here to speak with Dee Kahukoti about the new safe house for men. Te Whare Ahuru at 78 Huxley Rd has been refurbished after fire damage and is now a safe house for men to take themselves if they feel like they're going to be violent, or, after a family harm incident for support. Rather than removing the women and children from the home, which inevitably causes more trauma, Te Whare Ahuru flips the script and allows the perpetrator to take himself to a safe space to cool down and take time out with support. It is respite care for the perpetrator rather than the victim. There are only a few other houses of its kind in Aotearoa so it's a reasonably new concept, and it makes absolute sense. There is stigma attached to perpetrators of violence against women, so the men's safe house and Tauawhi Men's Centre are there to reduce barriers for men seeking help. "Men from all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds have popped into Tauawhi when they're going through stuff." Dee tells me. "There are mainly male staff, so it's men helping men." She says success is different for everyone. For men with unspoken trauma, sometimes just engagement is success. The concept of a safe house for men in Tairawhiti has existed for many years but with limited funding and constrained contracts, it wasn’t possible to act on the idea. Project manager Kim Torres was integral in working with Kainga Ora and other agencies to get it over the line. And it works. I'm given an example of a man who had been arrested for at least 10 family harm incidents the previous year. When provided with a safe house he got through his first year without being arrested, increasing his mana and ability to cope, with flow on effects to his family to reduce their overall trauma. The OG and heart of Tauawhi, Tim Marshall, says staff numbers have doubled in the last couple of years. He remembers being the one and only staff member 13 years ago when Tauawhi first opened, and now there are seventeen. The dedicated team at Tauawhi's main offices 71-73 Peel St are there for anyone to pop in during working hours, and Te Whare Ahuru at 78 Huxley Rd will have a full time kaitiaki tāne (caretaker) living at the premises, but they won't be accepting referrals until August. To start with they are only taking referrals from existing clients, with the intention to open it up to everyone in future. In the meantime, men who want to connect with other men can drop in to the Mana Tāne support group at 73 Peel St, every Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm. Dee says the group numbers grow and decline depending on how things are in the community. With extra pressures during tough times it's easy to feel alone, so it's important for men to know there are other men feeling the same, whether it's addictions, trauma or general life stresses.
Tauawhi isn’t the only place to access mental health support for men in Tairawhiti, says Tim, but if we haven’t got what you’re looking for, we can at least point you in the right direction.
"We might not be everyone's cup of tea, but we've got a cup of tea for everyone."
Story by Aimee Milne Photograph by Tom Teutenberg