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Te Ha Tangata: A human library on homelessness

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Parity, 30(8), 17-19

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Tilley presents an article that seeks to provide a platform for the voices of the homeless in Wellington, New Zealand.

This unique human library event, a collaboration between Te Pūaroha Compassion Soup Kitchen, Kahungunu Whānau Services, Te Whakamura Ai Te Ahi, and Massey University, was funded and supported by the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO. The project transforms the traditional concept of a library, where books are people, and reading is a conversation, to facilitate respectful dialogues between individuals. The article discusses the four-month process where individuals with experiences of housing deprivation (referred to as Taonga) were encouraged and supported to develop and share their personal narratives with the public and policymakers through various mediums like face-to-face storytelling, written narratives, and digital formats. The project aimed to shift the perspective towards recognizing those who live without housing as experts on the matter and to challenge misconceptions about homelessness. Te Hā Tangata focuses on key Māori values such as whakawhanaungatanga (establishing relationships), rangatiratanga (self-determination and empowerment), manaakitanga (respect, generosity, and care for others), and matauranga (knowledge and understanding). The project began with a full pōwhiri, a Māori welcoming ceremony, symbolizing unity and the start of the knowledge-sharing journey.
The project’s evaluation revealed significant changes in the perceptions of attendees about homelessness, indicating a successful shift in understanding and empathy towards the homeless community. Challenges faced during the project included recruitment and retention of Taonga and balancing public outreach with maintaining the project’s value and complexity. Tilley’s article emphasises the importance of giving a voice to the homeless community and demonstrates the potential of innovative, culturally grounded projects like Te Hā Tangata in altering public perceptions and policy approaches towards homelessness. This case study serves as an example of community response to homelessness, emphasising the importance of listening and understanding the experiences of those directly affected.

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