News | 27 March 2024
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Get to know the team at Te Wāhi Āwhina

Since it first opened in May 2021, Te Wāhi Āwhina has seen hundreds of people coming through its doors seeking support for a manner of things including housing, employment, mental health, and wellbeing.

Three team members standing and smiling for the camera.
The Kaiāwhina at Te Wāhi Āwhina.

Te Wāhi Āwhina is a community support hub on Manners Street run by kaimahi from the Connected Communities team at Wellington City Council. The hub is located next to the Opera House across from Te Aro Park and was opened under the Pōneke Promise, a coordinated community driven initiative to keep our city safe. With support from Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga | Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the hub will continue to serve the central community and allow the team to continue their good mahi supporting the people of Pōneke, alongside neighbouring services such as DCM and the Salvation Army. 

The team who works within the space are called Kaiāwhina, and the main part of their role is to listen to anyone who walks through the doors and help them figure out their tangible next steps. While no day looks the same for the team, they all share the same values of wanting to uphold and support their community. 

Get to know the team.

Meet Potene Awatere

Man sitting on a yellow couch.

Born and raised in Lower Hutt, community work was always destined for Potene’s future. He was raised by a single mother after his father passed away when he was young and both his mum and grandmother were social workers in the Hutt, says Potene. 

“A lot of my time was focused on doing things out in the community with my mum. At the time I found it frustrating because I wanted to hang out with my mates, but now when I reflect on it, I see how she helped me appreciate working in the community space and how I was able to develop these skills from a young age.”

After volunteering as a teenager, he began doing youth work, focusing on young people who were needing support to find employment or set future goals. He started developing his career at Te Runanga o Kirikiroa under their Rangatahi residential centre in Hamilton before coming back to Wellington for roles at Te Waka Whaiora (Kaupapa Māori mental health and addictions organisation) and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa before landing the role at Te Wāhi Āwhina. 

In just a couple of weeks of being in the role of Kaiāwhina, Potene is excited to dive deeper into the community and have face-to-face time, he says.    

“I love getting to know people’s stories, their backgrounds – there are a lot of things I can emphasise with.  I enjoy seeing people reclaim their own mana motuhake (independence).”

“The people who come in have so much going on in their lives and this will bring the challenge of adapting my communication in the way I build relationships. People just need someone to share their frustrations with and talk to.”

Meet Salote (Sa) Manu

Woman sitting on a yellow couch having a conversation.

Sa has been a Kaiāwhina since Te Wāhi Āwhina opened its doors in 2021. After working for 17 years at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Weltec, making the move into the community space in the middle of Te Aro Park presented more opportunities to directly support vulnerable communities.

She has stayed in the role for the past three years because she believes there is always good work to do.

“What I love about this role is that we provide a wraparound service and a one stop shop. People come in and we connect them to the right providers for their needs. We also spend a lot of time collaborating with those providers so that we can build a network. To name a few, we work with Pastor Joe from the Salvation Army, DCM, MSD and the Women’s Refuge. Most of these providers are close by too, which makes it easier for people to access.”

While each work day is different and sometimes challenging for the team, Sa says her love for the people in the community really drives her.

“I’ve lived in Wellington for over 30 years and it’s changed so much in that time. Transient people are constantly changing and have a range of problems they’re working through.  

“But we’re non-judgemental here. While we can’t solve every single thing they’re going through, we can still say hey, I’m going to try to connect you and this is how you could do it. There’s a lot of lonely people out there and lots of reasons why people are out on the streets, we want them to know that there is help available to them and we want to advocate for you.”

Meet Gene McCarten

Man in a blue shirt standing behind a computer.

Gene McCarten has always had a strong work ethic. He immediately jumped into the workforce when he finished school, working at the meat works in Ngauranga Gorge. 

After he had climbed the ranks there, he spent 10 years working in hospitality before he moved into the community space. In this time, he worked with Wesley Community Action based at Wesley House in Cannons Creek. 

This provided people in need with savings support, a food bank and a men’s group where they could make friends and find people to lean on, says Gene. 

“It’s great to provide support, as well as providing services that can help them more forward. We dealt with a lot of trauma there but we were able to help them.”

From there, Gene moved on to work at Te Whatu Ora, focusing on alcohol work and the initial COVID response. This paved the way to a role at Wellington City Council in the public health team where he worked closely with local bars and party businesses in the city, Gene says.  

“While I was focused on alcohol licensing, it was also about reducing alcohol harm. I collaborated a lot with the NZ Police and the Council, so it was a natural move to work in the public health team.”

This role then helped him take those skills and move into working at Te Wāhi Āwhina, where he could take those principles from his old role into deeper community work.

“Our job is to help people in different stages of life get from one place to the other. We give them the tools they need and show them the pathway that they should be doing it on. 

“We can’t be heroes every day, and we’re not going to be able to do it straight away. But we can help people get to a place where they can do it for themselves and take those little incremental steps forward to where they want to be. Sometimes, people just want to come inside and have a coffee and talk so I just give them the space and listen. We are approachable and friendly – we hope people know that.”

Te Wāhi Āwhina can be found at 117 Manners Street and is open weekdays from 9.30am to 4.30pm. Find out more on the website