Community worker talks about freedom and opportunity for all

Brook Turner is the head of community service development at Vision West.

Brook Turner is the head of community service development at Vision West.

Brook Turner, 37, is a west Aucklander living in Massey. He's dedicated 20 years of his life to community development and equal liberty. He joined community services organisation Vision West in 2017 as its community service development. 

How is Vision West helping west Aucklanders?

Vision West has a range of housing services that support people in the community in different ways. This includes 50 long term social houses. We also run six emergency houses which supports up to 24 families a year who find themselves in short term homeless situations. Our Housing First service aims to house 112 families in the next two years with 16 households housed so far. We are aiming to house 56 chronically homeless families by the end of January.

What's the Sleepless in September campaign?

Sleepless in September is about recognising that there are families not sleeping well tonight because they do not have the adequate food and shelter to sustain them. It is Vision West's inaugural event that will continue each September to raise the profile of homelessness in west Auckland and raise funds to help to reduce it. For Vision West, Sleepless in September is about getting more of our westie friends on board with ending homelessness in our neighbourhoods and restoring dreams and dignity to our struggling neighbours.

Has this job changed you?

I've often heard people dismiss poverty by talking about freedom of opportunity. There is a belief in some that no matter where you come from, if you work hard, don't play the victim and believe in yourself you will succeed in life. The problem with this very believable statement is that it has an assumption that sits at the heart of it. The assumption is that everyone starts from the same place. But the truth is they don't. I come from a home of privilege, not wealth. My parents loved one another and raised my brother and I to believe that we could be anything we wanted to be. They put energy, money, time, faith and belief into us. There was no abuse in my family, no racial prejudice to overcome, no substance addiction or generational poverty. My start line was one of security, safety, love, belief and wholeness. And although I have made some bad decisions in life, I am still a reasonably whole person. My story is not the story of the poor. It is not the story of many New Zealanders. Their story begins with pain, abuse, neglect, economic deprivation, lack of access to education, words of hate, experiences of trauma. So when we talk about freedom of opportunity perhaps we should start by making sure everyone can get to the same starting line, then the race is even.

What experience has stuck with you?

We recently housed a family of eight people, six children under the age of 10. The family had spent three years living in an overcrowded room. When Vision West met them, they had been living in a single room at a motel for 25 weeks. The children had respiratory illnesses and skin issues due to the dampness and inadequate living standards. Last week, we moved this family into their first home in over three years and the parents kept the house as a surprise for the children. The moment the kids saw the house was one our organisation will not forget quickly. If only we could ... see housing as a human right, not a human privilege. Imagine the difference we could make.

What's Vision West's aim for the future?

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We have a finite aim of ending chronic homelessness in west Auckland, but the vision is much broader. Our goal is to see transformed lives resulting in a healthy community. That means giving opportunity to the people we work with to dream, work, train and build their own lives, their way. It means self-determination and equal liberty for all westies.

 - Stuff

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