'I got educated, I got out': How a woman who grew up 'hotel-hopping' is housing a new generation of homeless

A woman who broke out of the cycle of poverty and homelessness she grew up in is helping a new generation of young Kiwis in need.

Māhera Maihi, founder of charity Mā Te Huruhuru, runs a 10-bedroom housing complex supporting young people in Ōtāhuhu. 

"I was raised in south Auckland and my dad was a part of a gang and we had 11 of us in our whanau," she told Newshub Nation on Saturday. "It was a very hard upbringing and we had to do everything that we could to survive. 

"I remember part of our childhood was that we were hotel-hopping because we had nowhere to go. And I actually only remembered this a couple of months ago - so I had learned how to put memories into a box and hide them away."

Her parents were "great", she said, but were "part of a system and a cycle that broke them as well".

"They loved us terribly. They just didn't have the education to be able to give us everything that we needed."

While her parents struggled to break out, they taught her how to.

"[My father would say], 'Do as I say, but don't do as I do.' If he could have broken the cycle, he would have. But he couldn't - he couldn't get out of it. But he gave us all of the encouragement to do that. 

"So I got educated, I got out."

She went on to work for Oranga Tamariki as a social worker, but found she "couldn't achieve what I really wanted to achieve, which was systemic change". So went out on her own and founded Mā Te Huruhuru.

"We provide workforce programmes, enterprise programmes, education programmes, suicide prevention programmes. We're currently doing COVID-19 health programs."

Māhera Maihi
Māhera Maihi. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Housing is new for the organisation, but perhaps one of its most important. There are an estimated 41,000 homeless in New Zealand, half of them under 25. 

"But it's been very hard to get funding for that… it's taken months and months and it's been very arduous."

Before Maihi's interview, Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson was on the show. She has responsibility for homelessness but said 10 months into the job, she's "not satisfied" with the progress that's been made. 

Maihi said she has met with Davidson, saying the minister is doing "everything that she can".

"I do believe that she is the right person. However, I think that the person we need to be speaking to is Megan Woods, who is the [Housing Minister]. I think we need to have people like her at the table so we can question them."

Maihi complained there was no data and seemingly no plan. Davidson said plans were being developed, and Woods is involved, as is Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson.

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