Trades course a 'lifesaver' for formerly homeless man
As a 21-year-old living rough in Christchurch, Amos Neate says he was "struggling to stay alive".
For three years he slept under bridges, stole clothes and washed himself in public bathrooms. He used to walk past construction sites and think to himself how he could do that.
"But I was on the streets worrying about what my next feed was, let alone trying to get a job," he said.
"To say I'm qualified now, five years ago, I wouldn't have thought I would end up here."
On Wednesday Neate, 28, graduated Ara Institute of Canterbury's He Toki course, a fee-free collaboration between the polytechnic, Ngai Tahu and industry focussed on trades careers for Maori and Pasifika.
He called his national certificate in carpentry, and ensuing apprenticeship with Hawkins Construction, the proudest achievement of his life.
"It's a lifesaver isn't it? It's altered the course of my life doing it."
Neate's mum, a bus driver, kicked the "black sheep" of the family out of home at age 16. He would see her working in town and beg her for food to no avail, he said.
"I remember when I was 17 my mum said I was on the road to jail. It's sort of something you don't forget easy and that's been a challenge, for us to settle the past."
But just as he was sorting his life out, she suggested he enrol in the course.
With no formal qualifications and $18,000 in debt the transition was difficult but the undertaking itself was harder.
Living on $200 a week, his long battle with depression reared its head. The last year of his apprenticeship especially took a toll and he would melt down and cry inexplicably.
He also felt pressure from He Toki, as its first ever carpentry apprentice, to complete the course.
What kept him going, he said, was "hope of having a career and not just being a bum – a reason to actually live and not give up".
He's now building student accommodation on Madras Street for Hawkins and hopes to move on to a diploma in construction and eventually become a project manager. His apprenticeship showed he has the leadership skills to do it, he said.
Home ownership is in his future too: Neate's Kiwisaver boasts a healthy $27,000 balance he hopes to put towards a Kaiapoi or east Christchurch property.
He partially attributed his successes to Ara tutor Jim Keenan, who he said "deserves a medal really", for pushing him into the apprenticeship.
"He sort of inspired me in a way. His actions rubbed off on me and I was passionate about finishing the course and making him proud."
He recalled a guest lecture from Ngai Tahu leader Mark Solomon during the course.
"He said 'we want you to jump on the waka but we want you to stay on the waka.'"
"I feel like this isn't the end. To me, the job isn't done."