Kaikohe local “Percy” is about to move into his new home on whānau land thanks to an innovative collaboration between NorthTec | Te Pūkenga and Te Whatu Ora.
Percy first presented for care and support from Te Whatu Ora Mental Health and Addictions team as a teenager in the late 1990s. Since that time, he has been supported in the community and in the Whangārei sub-acute and in-patient units (IPU) to help manage his health needs.
As a result of the combination of challenges Percy faces, it has been difficult for him to find a stable and lasting living environment.
“Percy’s a bit iconic in Northland,” says Jacquii Hessell, Clinical Team Manager for Mental Health and Addictions, Te Tai Tokerau. “People often see him hitchhiking around.”
Past attempts to access emergency housing or other housing options haven’t been successful for Percy, says Social Worker Aroha Te Hau.
Aroha had heard that NorthTec | Te Pūkenga had run a community housing project via its Kaitaia campus in the past and approached carpentry tutor Andy Cogar. Initially the idea was for Andy to present a letter to potential suppliers to help Aroha get some materials to build the cabin for Percy at a lower cost. Andy, however, saw the potential to take his involvement further.
“I was looking for a project for my Level 3 carpentry students,” he says. “Aroha explained Percy’s situation, and that a small self-contained sleep out would suit him. It was really a no-brainer from there on. We needed a build and Aroha wanted to help find a house for Percy, so it was a win-win.”
“At the start of the build we had two dedicated students working on the project, Bronson Tepania and Vincent Watkins, and their Tutor George Tzikoukos. George came up with a simple design which evolved into its present form. Due to the dreadful timing of material shortages we had to do the best we could with the materials we could get.
“Both students put in an absolute fantastic effort on the build and on numerous occasions volunteered their free days to work on the build with George.
“When both students graduated in July and George was called on to tutor elsewhere, my current Level Three students stepped in and have been hard at work to finish the build. The four students who are currently on ‘the Percy build’, as it’s become known, are Jersey Nukunuku, Mark Duncan, Nelson D’Sa and Patrick Trevor. They have embraced the community project and have worked incredibly hard to get it finished.”
Andy even found help to paint the cabin, in the form of NorthTec | Te Pūkenga painting tutor Jarrod McKelvie, and his students. “Jarrod travelled with his students, Jahcey Rapira Adams, Ohomairangi, Corrie Wilson, Te Aorewa Patira, Loki McQueen and Ryan Carse-Thorpe from Whangārei over three days to give the Percy build a painted finish inside and out.”
Andy says that the build has been an incredible experience for all the carpentry students, not only in terms of learning new skills and applying them to a real-world project, but also becoming aware that things don’t always go as planned.
“If ever there was a project that has seen “challenges” this is it! You name it, and the Percy build has seen it, from COVID-19 lockdown and COVID and flu illness of students and tutors, to the horrendous material delays and shortages.
“There’s been a real sense that we’re doing something worthwhile with this build. I overhear the same comment all the time, including from the painters over their three days, “He’s going to love this!” It’s the one thing that has kept us looking at the silver lining of the ‘challenges cloud’. It’s that we’re helping someone, and we know he’s going to love this. We want to see Percy in his home, and it would be nice for him to meet the students who have done this for him, they are rightfully proud of their efforts.”
Andy says that all the students are either hoping to get apprenticeships or want to go further within the building trade. One already has an apprenticeship in Auckland, and another is working with a local building company. “Another has expressed interest in working on Percy-style projects full time as it gives him a real joy and sense of pride,” says Andy.
“The students’ and tutors’ dedication has been really moving for me,” says Aroha. “Andy had a student who was himself homeless, but he still turned up every day to help. Just the willingness and the empathy of some of the students and the giving of their time outside of their course hours has been amazing. Their expression of aroha will be with me forever.”
Crucially, Percy’s whānau got in behind the project, says Jacquii, working with his Te Whatu Ora support team to ensure that everything would be in place to create a viable, long-term solution for Percy.
“We’re really fortunate that the whānau have come on board,” says Aroha. “Working closely with them has been incredibly important. That’s been the make or break of it.”
The internal fit-out of the cabin has been almost all provided as koha by those connected to the project. Aroha says that Percy is aware that the cabin is almost finished and has been really settled and waiting patiently for his now home.
“It’s his forever home and a safe place to lay his head,” says Aroha. “That’s really important for anyone who is trying to achieve wellness. He’ll always have a home to go to.”
“Seeing the young people who worked on the project was uplifting,” says Jacquii. “We know it may not all go smoothly but we have put a plan in place to support the whānau and to support Percy.”
Jacquii hopes that the collaborative approach taken with ‘the Percy build’ might provide an example of a whānau-centred, equitable approach.
“We needed a solution that’s in Kaikohe because that’s where Percy will always gravitate, and he’s safe here. This is truly his community. We are doing things that work around whānau and people. This project sets a blueprint for what is definitely going to work, especially in our rural communities.”
Pictured from left to right: Jersey Nukunuku, Mark Duncan, Nelson D’Sa and Patrick Trevor.
Pictured from left to right: Painting tutor Jarrod McKelvie and his students Jahcey Rapira Adams, Ohomairangi, Corrie Wilson, Te Aorewa Patira, Loki McQueen and Ryan Carse-Thorpe.
Vincent Watkins and Bronson Tepania worked on the cabin construction