Picking up the paddle

This is the story of Tim, who only months ago was sleeping rough and walking a tightrope of mental health and substance abuse issues. He’s doing really well now, and he generously shares his journey with us. From the mean streets up north to the front steps of DCM, how together they crossed an ocean, and how it all started with picking up the paddle.


Tim used to live up north in a Housing New Zealand home, but it wasn't safe for him there. He’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and was struggling with unstable mental health and substance abuse issues.

The community he lived in was pretty rough too. He used to have issues with neighbours, and since his home was right on the corner of the street with no gate or fence, people regularly came onto his property to harass and intimidate him.

He realised that if he was going to get better and build a life for himself, he couldn't do it where he was. So one day, he packed up and moved to Wellington for a fresh start.

When he arrived, he had nowhere to stay and ended up in a temporary shelter. It was here that he first found out about DCM from the local homeless community themselves. They told him that if you want help, you go to DCM, so he made his way down and found himself on their front steps.

The front steps of DCM's building on Lukes Lane, where they open every morning by singing together.

The front steps of DCM's building on Lukes Lane, where they open every morning by singing together.

When Tim walked in, he was in such poor health that he was immediately seen by a nurse at the health clinic onsite. They took him to hospital and reassessed him for his mental health, where they found that he had been without his medication for a while, and had been self-medicating and engaging in substance abuse.

Back up north, he used to receive medication through Mental Health Services (MHS), but since arriving in Wellington he’d lost touch. He was set back up with the MHS team, and became a regular down at DCM, visiting daily.

He spent time at Te Hāpai – a safe space at DCM to participate in recovery-focused programmes, and was one of the first people to be seen at the DCM Dental Service when it opened its doors earlier this year.

He had a lot of pain in his mouth, and his dentist David found that his teeth were so decayed that they were cutting into his tongue. When David asked him how long his teeth had been like this, he told him at least six months. He couldn't remember exactly; he had gotten used to the pain.

Every day in his work with DCM, David sees others in a similar state to Tim.


Every single person I see at the DCM Dental Service has been putting up with high levels of pain for months, if not longer. They have had to develop a higher tolerance for pain, but for Tim, there was a real willingness to sort it.


It’s been this willingness that Tim has, the willingness to take steps for himself, for his own health and wellbeing, that’s been so important in getting him to the place where he is now. This is exactly what the team at DCM mean when they say "ki te hoe: pick up the paddle." The journey to being healthy and housed is like crossing an ocean. DCM are there, ready and waiting, with a waka for you to begin that journey. But you have to be prepared to get in that waka, and to pick up the paddle, or it’s only going to go around and around in circles.

For Tim, he’s always been ready to pick up that paddle, and that takes enormous courage. He made the call to leave his life up north, and he made his way down to DCM to ask for help.

After receiving treatment for his teeth and gums, he then began working with DCM team member Shomilla to get himself housed. She made a referral to Housing New Zealand and within months Tim had a home out in Lower Hutt.


I’ve loved working with him. We really do work together; it’s not all up to me. He is open about his needs, and whenever we meet he is positive and honest. He takes ownership of what is going on in his life.


Shomilla is so incredibly proud of how Tim has built himself a community out where he’s living. He regularly goes to church and mixes with the locals, and he uses the library and all the community resources that are around him.

Last time Shomilla went out to see him, Tim's mum was visiting. He was so excited to be in his own home with her, and he later told Shomilla that this was the first time in three years that he and his mum had seen each other – the first time he'd had a safe place for her to come stay.

Tim's pretty happy out in the Hutt, and his mates at DCM couldn't be prouder of him. To people who are having trouble, don’t be afraid to ask DCM for help. If you want the help, the help is there. All you have to do is “ki te hoe”, pick up that paddle.


*While Tim was one of the first people in that dental chair, since then over a hundred people have received life-changing treatment at the DCM Dental Service. At every session, this important initiative makes a huge difference in the lives of some of the most marginalised people in Wellington. If you know a dentist who's a member of the NZDA and keen to volunteer their skills to make a real difference – send them DCM's way. Get in touch here.

*We wanted to acknowledge Te Whakamura Ai te Ahi – a partnership that DCM has with Ngati Kahunganu Whanau Services and the Soup Kitchen, a collaborative project funded by the Wellington City Council as a part of the Te Mahana Strategy. The project's goal is to end homelessness by assessing the needs of individuals and providing them with plans to housing and support services.

*Also, Tim really needs a vacuum. If you’ve got a spare one, get in touch here.


DCM continues to support around 150 of Wellington's most vulnerable per week. They're one of One Percent Collective's partner charities, so if you'd like to learn more about what they do, and make more stories like Tim's possible by supporting them with 1% of your income, check them out below.