This modern-day warrior stands at five-foot something, wears a fluffy purple scarf and has just finished her Masters. Stephanie McIntyre fights the good fight, directing the homelessness service DCM in Wellington. A long-time champion of disadvantaged groups, she has touched and transformed lives, as well as the organisation dedicated to helping them.
In my childhood we always had a little cardboard box that we put money into for the ‘poor children in Africa’ or the Leprosy Mission, although I doubt I had any idea what that meant. Running little fundraising stalls for our current cause was part of everyday life. While the patronising descriptions make me cringe now, it encouraged me to get into a habit of giving.
I was born and raised in the Hutt Valley into the cocooning myth of equality and racial harmony. We thought Aotearoa New Zealand had the best race relations in the world. But the Hunn Report released in the 1960s described a New Zealand that was far from equal. I didn’t realise it then, but it was a time when New Zealand policy pushed Maori and Pacific people into assimilation – into a very Europeanised way of life.
I’ve lived in the southern Wellington suburb of Berhampore for more than 20 years. I remember when I chaired the local school board at the inception of the educational reform programme, Tomorrow’s Schools; I was the only board member who spoke English as my first language. Most of the others were born in various Pacific Islands. Over the time I’ve lived here, I’ve watched Berhampore change and become more gentrified.
I first came alive to the issue of homelessness when I was in Boston for three months in 2000. The little graduate school where I was staying hosted women from a local shelter to experience the respite of staying overnight in a lovely apartment, which was kept vacant for that purpose. I joined the roster to be a host. Every Sunday I went to a simple gathering of homeless people on the Boston Common where Debbie, a diminutive Episcopal priest, held a communion service.
On St Francis’s Day, the patron saint of animals, Debbie invited the participants to tell stories of their pets. One woman had two toy dogs peeping out of the shopping trolley that contained all her possessions for her life on the street. Another had old photos that he carried with him. It really sparked my motivation to come back to Wellington and turn my attention to homelessness here.
My role at DCM is to make sure that it is a well-functioning organisation right now in the present, but also guide it into the future. Part of my role is about reading the future, picking up what’s coming towards us and creating an environment where, together, we can figure out how to ride the buffeting waves of change.
What is important is that we know who we are and what we want to be. For us that means being the kind of organisation that vulnerable and marginalised people feel genuinely comfortable coming to. A place where they feel welcome and safe and they can thrive.
Photography and words by Larissa McMillan.