The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

The Dunedin Night Shelter: Interview

This post marks the first article in a series about the Dunedin Night Shelter and the struggles of the homeless. We’re in the lead-up to the Dunedin Sleep Out and it’s so important to raise awareness of this issue and to support the amazing people in our community making a difference. I was fortunate enough to interview Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust about his work with the Dunedin Night Shelter.


Could you tell me a little about what the Dunedin Night Shelter does in the local community?

The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust offers anybody, (men and women), emergency accommodation in Dunedin. Clients receive an evening meal, shower, laundry, bed and breakfast in the morning. We also have available staff who can assist clients in finding accommodation or sourcing the help they require. We also have transitional accommodation for selected ex-prisoners, who can stay in Phoenix Lodge for 6 months, in a controlled and supportive environment, to help them adjust to life outside of prison in a constructive way. We work with PARS (Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society).

What makes you angry or upset about our community?

I found myself so angry and upset about some things in our community that I actually choked up with sadness while singing the National Anthem at an ANZAC day service! Some of the things that upset me are the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in our economy. Some people earn an amazing amount of money, while those in important jobs (e.g. carers of the elderly) earn so much less. The economic successes in our country seem to benefit a relative few at the top. Trickle down theory does not work.

I took a funeral of a 19 year old girl recently. Both her parents worked, but her dad, thinking of the cost of a funeral said, “We exist from week to week. We do not have savings. How can we afford that?” That is life for many families.

Secondly, I have worked among the vulnerable in our community for many years. Changes in technology, economics (loss of manufacturing jobs) etc. mean that there are a lot more people unable to be employed. There are many who can never keep up with digital technology, who got left behind at school. So while there seems amazing “progress” there are those on the bottom who live with no sense of hope or purpose. Looking down the barrel of living a whole life on the benefit sucks.  

This can lead to bad life choices, addictions and sometimes mental health issues. I feel for these people, and I think their numbers may grow.  While our “progress” in technology and efficiency sounds great, it leaves a lot of people behind. I think people can survive poverty, but the lack of purpose, hope and dignity (no useful place in the community) eats at their soul. In my youth it was different in NZ for such people; there were jobs, they had work mates and something useful to do.

Thirdly, I grew up feeling good about egalitarian New Zealand, with our free education system and our public health system, but these days these benefits have been eroded. In the long run I think the changes cost, economically (we pay in other ways – e.g. mental health system cutbacks lead to justice system increases) but also in terms of human well-being. We have lost a sense of “common-wealth”.

What needs to change in Dunedin?

I would like to see more manufacturing jobs created in Dunedin so that people can find useful work. Secondly, our staff at the Night Shelter struggle to find affordable accommodation for people in Dunedin. Thirdly, unemployed people used to have in Dunedin ASCO (Advisory and Support Centre Otago). ASCO ran a day time drop-in (they cooked a cheap meal), sourced vegetables, bread and other groceries that people could buy cheaply. ASCO also offered support and ran various work projects such as pine cone collections. Its funding was cut by the government and it stopped. If I had the money, time, energy and skills I would want to start a similar thing. Dunedin needs a centre like that.

What were your expectations coming into the Dunedin Night Shelter, and how have they changed?

I was part of the exploratory group who began to explore the need in 2003. It hosted a public gathering, became a steering committee and then a Trust Board. My expectations were that I would be a useful member of the committee until the service began, and then move on. I never expected I would become chairman and be involved for this long. I was a part of the formation of Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin and that consumed my life. I guess I did not want that sort of responsibility again, but if anything it has evolved into an almost full-time commitment and consumes many hours every week.

We spend around $120,000 per year – I would never have thought it would have got to such a big budget and responsibility. I guess too I have found it more complex than I thought. We have to consider staff and client Health and Safety protocols. When do you refuse entry? How generous should you be? When does support become support for people’s addictions or bad lifestyle? My original thoughts were just have a house and a few volunteers rostered. But it is so much more complex trying to shuffle so many aspects to it.

What keeps you motivated?

I guess from my spirituality I feel a certain solidarity with those in need. The homeless are my brothers and sisters. I also see it as a way of sharing resources more evenly – resources of money, of time, of skills, education etc. Secondly – the support we have received from the community makes me feel we are not alone on this journey.

What has surprised you the most during your volunteer activity/role/responsibilities?

I guess the support we have received along the journey. When we first began our street appeal people asked, “Why do we need a Night Shelter in Dunedin?” These days we are almost embarrassed by the support and generosity of people. We raised $600,000 to purchase our premises. In 2004, when we were exploring there was a building we looked at going for $600,000. We did not pursue it because we saw that as an impossible pipe dream. But we got better buildings for the same amount in 2015 through Dunedin’s generosity.

How can interested students help out?

We would be very grateful for assistance with our street appeal between 24th July and 29th. If students could give an hour to assist with that would be great.

For this and any other offers (cooking a meal to go into the freezer, giving excess bedding to give to clients etc) phone Carol Frost, our Operations Director at the Shelter on 4770546 or


Image: Dave Brown, the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust, building a garden shed with Dr Dave McMorran from the University of Otago’s Chemistry Department.

UniCrew Visits: The United Nations

UniCrew Visits: The United Nations

Welcome back to the latest instalment of the UniCrew Visits, where we tell the stories of cool people going to cool places.

This week I sat down with Briar from the UniCrew Exec to chat about her experience at the Harvard National Model United Nations 2016 and discuss the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and how they relate to UniCrew!

Jessie: Hello, hello, this is a bit weird eh.

Briar: Just a bit (laughs).

J: We pretty much just had this conversation and now we are going through it all again cause I didn’t record it (fail).
Anyways, tell me a little bit about the trip.

B: Basically, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Harvard Model UN in late January, early February. This is a conference with loads of students from all around the world coming together to learn more about the United Nations, and represent a given country as part of the model UN. The NZ delegates represented Norway, so we got to attend model committee meetings for the committees which Norway is actually on.

J: You mentioned that you got to meet Helen Clark?

B: We got to ask her heaps about her role as head of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), and she is just an amazing person to talk to in terms of the breadth of her knowledge.

J: She has an amazing background at this point eh?

B: Definitely, and it shows in the way she can approach situations, she is so pragmatic and neutral with her response to different issues. Its very inspiring.

J: So are you Team Helen all the way then? (Helen Clark is currently in the running to become the United Nations Secretary General)

B: Oh yeah, #helenforUNSG!

J: #helen4life (laughs).
So that was one of the highlights, you also mentioned that you got to do a lot of travelling around the United States during this trip, can you tell us a bit about that?

B: We started in San Francisco, and we biked to the Golden Gate Bridge, went to China Town. We walked the United Nations walkway, which is to signify where the United Nations Charter was signed. On the ground as you walk along is the pre-amble to the first Charter of the United Nations, so our group all walked along in the pouring rain, reading the ground like the political nerds that we are.

We then went to Washington DC, which is essentially the political capital of the United States. We went to Capitol Hill, got to see the Supreme Court, which as a law student was pretty cool. I wished we could have seen the notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the few female Supreme Court Justices). 


J: It all sounds amazing, so jelly.

B: OH, we went to the White House as well-

J: I can’t believe you forgot a trip to the White House, just casually

B: Actually, while we were there, the Secret Service kind of came out of nowhere and ushered us all back.

J: Ooooo..

B: We figured out that the Columbian Ambassador was leaving, so they were letting him leave. But I loved how there was a Secret Service guy on a bicycle.

J: That’s great HA,

B: He would kind of just pull up, oh and there was also a squirrel.

J: (Laughing) So the key part of the White House, Secret Service guy on a bike, and SQUIRRELS.

B: (Also laughing) Pretty much yep. Anyways from Washington we were onto Boston, where the actual conference was being held. Representing Norway, we had prepared to speak at our committee on two different topics, but only one would be selected, which was the rights of female prisoners.


The next four days were just more committee meetings, following that was another two days where we needed to go out to another area, and it was a -18 degree snow day. I was in open toed heels –

J: NO, oh dear,

B: Yeah, oops. We did also visit Harvard whilst there, which was awesome, and ate in the law school cafeteria, which again was awesome for me as a law student.

J: Setting your sights, love it!

B: From Boston, we went to New York –

J: (fake cries) so jealous!

B: So cool, jamming to Empire State of Mind, New York New York on the train there. Highlights were of course visiting the UN Headquarters, going to see 2 Broadway Shows, went to an NBA game. We spent the longest in New York, and it wasn’t nearly long enough.

J: Urgh, I am DYING to go there –

B: Everyone should go there, I can’t wait to go back eventually.


So then we went onto Hawaii, and just relaxed for the end of our trip!

J: Nice, urgh take me with you.

But anyways, so the main reason we are talking about this trip, is because at UniCrew we are trying to incorporate the United Nations Global Goals into a lot of what we do. So can you tell us a little bit about those?

B: So the Global Goals for Sustainable Development replace the Millennium Development Goals which ended in 2015.

The Global Goals expand and build on the work of those original goals. The way they are laid out (as 17 goals relating to different areas of sustainable development) makes it easy for people to identify goals and work towards them.


So at UniCrew, we are trying to identify what different goals relate to different volunteering opportunities, so like for example if someone is trying to end poverty, we can say hey-

J: Like here’s this organisation which is also passionate about ending poverty, and they have this role that would be great for you.

B: Exactly. One of the goals that I really like –

J: That was my next question, you are one step ahead of me haha,

B: Ha, I like them all, but one in particular is goal #11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.

J: Why do you identify with that goal then?

B: I really like the idea that the international community has recognised the importance of the community unit. And it feeds off a lot of the other goals as well –

J: Right, cause some are quite specific, and others are more broad.

B: Exactly, you’ve got things like zero hunger for example,

J: Which encompasses a lot of things,

B: And I like the idea of working with smaller units like a community, to achieve some of the bigger goals like that.

J: Awesome.


The Global Goals are becoming a big part of our work at UniCrew. We are excited to keep using the #globalgoals to make volunteering opportunities meaningful and accessible for everyone!

Right now you can apply for funding as part of Operation Global Goals, to get your community project funded! If you are a student club or group what are you waiting for? Apply here!