Hard News by Russell Brown

2

Friday Music: Popping off

I've said before that I think we're living in a rich era for New Zealand music, one in which the ambition and creativity of the artists is bulwarked with skills in the technical and commercial parts of the music business that basically didn't use to be there.

Take the new single by Bene, whose set at The Others Way you may recall me raving about recently. You can find it on your chosen streaming service here.

It's her song – and she has a swag more of them – but it's been brought to fruition by Josh Fountain, who took over Golden Age, the little commercial studio in Morningside, Auckland, where Lorde's Pure Heroine was recorded.

As a really good profile by Hussein Moses for The Spinoff explains, Fountain's big break was enrolling at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand (MAINZ) – and then one of his tutors, Angus McNaughton (who was once a partner in Incubator, the tiny studio where the Headless Chickens' Body Blow was recorded) got him a job making jingles, where he met his future bandmates in Kidz in Space.

He worked on records by Smashproof, Randa, Thomston and Annah Mac before being bequeathed Golden Age by Joel Little. Thereafter, he worked with Maala, Openside and Theia, who have all managed to break through the international pop noise and make an impression on the local charts.

But it's on 'Soaked' where you can most clearly hear the sound of Leisure, the kind of groove supergroup Fountain is part of along with Jayden Parkes, who was in the pop-punk band Goodnight Nurse with Joel Little. They're managed (along with Thomston and Sol3 Mio) by Seiko, the management company founded by Scott Maclachlan, who discovered and signed Lorde. (Maclachlan took a senior A&R role at Warner Music Australasia earlier this year, but continues to advise at Seiko.)

Also in Leisure is Jordan Arts, who was half of Kids of 88, along with Sam McCarthy, who was also in Goodnight Nurse along with Parkes and Little and now works in LA as Boyboy.

Jordan also has his own thing, High Hoops, and has been a favourite of this blog for some years now. His debut album, Seasons On Planet Earth, is out today and it's a beguiling mix of giddy nu-disco and rolling, smoky grooves, deeper than it might first appear.

Glide around your kitchen to that. Streaming and buying links here. There's also vinyl.

Meanwhile, Bene has signed with Australian's Niche Talent Agency, which will handle her bookings from here on. She's managed by CRS, who also look after Fountain and have been Brooke Fraser's management since forever, out of the same Morningside building as Golden Age.

So, as you can see, there are a lot of moving parts here – including parts that didn't exist 10 years ago. Old creative relationships, bands that didn't quite work out first time, lessons learned, skills acquired, opportunities grasped and networks formed. It looks good to me.

–––

Bene is in the Laneway 2019 lineup for the festival's 10th birthday – alongside Courtney Barnett and Florence and the Machine. I'm quite thrilled to see Jon Hopkins back. And the absolute curveball? Veteran South Island experimentalists The Dead C. Had you asked "Will Florence and the Machine and The Dead C ever share a bill in our universe?" I would not have picked that.

Note also that there are more Splore announcements on the way. I heard about one of them this week and let's just say I am most excited.

–––

Hallelujah Picassos are back with with a new single that somehow haunts and stomps at the same time:

The flip is a wiggy new mix of 'Picasso Core', which features one of the last vocals recorded by the late Bobbylon. There's also a 7" single out today, available here at Flying Out.

–––

Speaking of Flying Out, I'm delighted to be the first friend to step up for Friday Friends, a new series at the physical Flying Out store (80 Pitt Street, near the K Road corner). I'll be playing records while people muck about in a record shop from 5pm to 7pm today.

Come on down! I hear there's even beer.

–––

Tunes!

Just one. An absolute banger of a Fela Kuti edit. Free download (with a bit of palaver):

13

A painful reflection

The report outlining Housing New Zealand's response to the harm caused by its misguided policies around supposed methamphetamine contamination of its properties is long and thorough.

It puts a number on the tenants harmed by evictions which were very largely unwarranted on any health and safety grounds. There were about 800 evictions and an average of three occupants per tenancy, so around 2400 people. Many of them were – often in their absence – ordered by the Tenancy Tribunal to pay compensation.

But the report also offers an important insight into how this could have happened. It came, ultimately, from the top. The "zero tolerance" policy on illegal activity within Housing NZ properties was adopted in 2004, during the last Labour government. But set against that was an explicit expectation from government that:

... Housing New Zealand should take a broad view of social housing. This included providing other services, such as employment opportunities for tenants and low-income workers through Housing New Zealand’s asset development programme, and working with other agencies to improve outcomes for tenants. Housing New Zealand was expected to provide “support to families and individuals who need housing assistance by creating communities that exhibit security, stability and harmony” . As a result of these expectations Housing New Zealand operated an array of programmes that focussed on community renewal, rural housing, and neighbourhood projects, and was closely involved with strengthening families and case management.

But that changed when the government changed:

By the 2010/11 financial year these programmes had ceased. Government expectations were focussed on value for money and improving the quality of expenditure across government. Ministers asked Housing New Zealand to explore ways to improve operational efficiencies, to deliver a return on its investment and to control its operating costs. Government required Housing New Zealand to implement an “innovative approach to tenancy management to ensure resources are directed to those most in need”. There was also an expectation that Housing New Zealand would pay an annual dividend to the Crown.

During this time the Government also began the Social Housing Reform Programme, with the intention of broadening the provision of social housing. The clear expectation was for Housing New Zealand to focus on its core functions as a landlord, with other agencies providing social services for tenants as required.

For all the talk – and it was endless – National's proposed reform of social housing never got off the ground in the sense of a meaningful broadening of provision. But Housing NZ did follow the instructions of the government of the day and reconceive itself as a property management company rather than a social agency.

And that's how we got to the point of actions being taken that were harmful  to the people who use social housing. The point where it was deemed reasonable to evict an entire family because one member may – or may not – have had a meth problem.

Some of the most vulnerable people in New Zealand live in Housing New Zealand’s houses, including not only the main tenant but also other household members and tenants’ families. The ending of a tenancy can result in flow on effects for these individuals that can be very hard to recover from, including homelessness. Despite this, Housing New Zealand has until recently taken a zero tolerance stance towards the use of methamphetamine in its properties.

Housing New Zealand’s procedures allowed for testing of properties for methamphetamine contamination if there were reasonable grounds to believe that methamphetamine was being manufactured or used. Any level of methamphetamine contamination found could be used as evidence of illegal activity at the property, and a 2016 policy decision allowed for tenancies to be ended on this basis.

Tenants deemed to not be responsible for the "contamination" in their houses were rehoused, but they represented only about a third of those evicted. And, as I reported in Matters of Substance two years ago, the basis for those life-changing official decisions was quite frequently no more than hearsay. As the report notes:

A policy clarification in 2016 confirmed that methamphetamine contaminated tenancies were being ended due to the illegal activity (either the use or manufacture of methamphetamine), not solely due to the property being contaminated. Housing New Zealand did not require confirmation of this illegal activity by the Police or Courts. This further reinforced the zero tolerance approach to methamphetamine use as an illegal activity.

Tenants were, effectively, "convicted" of illegal activity without access to due process, on evidence that a court would, in many cases, have rejected.

This goes way beyond a simple misapprehension of the science. As I also revealed in that MoS story, Housing NZ's meth team actively considered going even further by requiring tenants to be drug-tested before being housed. The idea was rejected not because of its human rights implications, but because it was deemed impractical.

I do think it's important to note that Housing NZ had begun to move away from these practices even before Housing minister Phil Twyford asked the Office of the Chief Science Advisor to investigate the soundness of polciies around meth contamination. The parts of this new report that outline what Housing NZ is now doing differently are as important as the accounting of what it did wrong. I can, on that basis, understand Twyford's decision not to force resignations from the CEO and the board.

And when I was listening to Twyford field questions from reporters this morning about the lack of scalps, I did find myself hoping that the news organisations those reporters work for will also be taking a look at themselves.

Because there's a a whole other dimension to this story. And that's the way that a predatory testing and decontamination industry was able to sell its own meth-crisis narrative with the direct assistance of journalists and editors who simply didn't exercise the diligence their jobs should demand.

How many times did we hear or see someone with a direct commercial interest quoted as an "expert"? 

Newshub in 2016:

An industry expert believes methamphetamine-infected homes could be the next 'leaky homes' crisis.

The head of commercial meth cleaning service Envirocheck says up to 20 percent of kiwi homes could be infected, with half of those at levels above the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.

Envirocheck head David Kilburn says it has the potential to be a huge problem.

"I think it's a billion dollar problem," he says. "Some of those houses are going to cost $100,000 to put right."

Mr Kilburn was told the Ministry of Health estimates around 50 homes are infected every year, but he believes that’s a gross underestimate.

"We could find 50 houses contaminated every three months and we're just one company."

Mr Kilburn is warning homeowners that P can be found anywhere.

"[People tell us] the people we bought it off were an elderly couple, and they'd owned it for twenty years, how could there be meth in the house.

"[I tell them] what about your guests? Can you vouch for every single one of them? What about the elderly couple? Did they have any grandchildren come stay with them? Was one of their grandchildren a meth head? 

"You just cannot be certain that meth hasn't come into your home. They may have done that outside and then walked in and the fumes have followed them in."

A couple of months later, in the Taranaki Daily News, the proportion of "contaminated" properties, again according to David Kilburn of Envirocheck, had swelled to 25%:

Envirocheck general manager David Kilburn said methamphetamine contamination was a serious problem with up to 25 per cent of houses checked showing the drug's presence.

"We are dealing with the tip of the iceberg at the moment," Kilburn said.

One session smoking the Class A drug could be enough to produce a positive test result.

"It may not contaminate the property to above the Ministry of Health guidelines but we've seen properties where meth has been smoked, perhaps in a party situation in the course of one weekend, in a book a bach situation, and the property has been severely enough contaminated to require quite extensive decontamination," he said.

Back in 2014, the Sunday Star Times was quoting Envirocheck's office manager on the health effects of methamphetamine:

Envirocheck office manager Jasmine Pruden said half of the properties they tested come back positive for drug contamination.

The cost of purging a house of chemicals can range from $1200 to $95,000.

In the worst cases Envirocheck stripped the house to its shell.

Ms Pruden was also quoted in the Wanganui Chronicle:

Envirocheck office manager Jasmine Pruden said telltale signs that meth had been manufactured or used in a house include a "chemical smell" or "chemical discolouring" in places like the laundry or down window sills where chemicals have been tipped out.

Other signs to watch out for were dodgy wiring and plumbing, fire alarms that had been removed or missing light bulbs.

However, she said some cooks and smokers were "smart enough to clean up after themselves". "Sometimes you can walk into a property and it can look amazing, but it can be fully contaminated," she said.

And yet a simple Google search finds her qualifications on LinkedIn:

The Herald ran this nonsense without a byline:

MethSolutions director Miles Stratford has been testing houses for 3 years. Over that time, the number tested by his company had grown from a "handful" to more than 200 a month, nationwide.

But the proportion testing positive had remained at 40 per cent.

"That's everything from a little bit of use through to significant manufacture," Mr Stratford said.

"It's just like with cigarette smoke. That can get stuck in walls. It's the same as the vapour left over from meth smoking."

Clean-up ranges from $1000 to a few hundred thousand, with hefty replacement costs for furnishings, curtains and wall coverings too.

 The story was accompanied with this absolute garbage graphic, whose "facts" about methamphetamine seemed to have been cribbed straight from a testing company website, possibly MethSolutions' own.

In many cases, the stories came direct from the testing companies, who had worked out that the news media would generally relay whatever bullshit they were offered if it made a good headline.

 There have been, it's important to note, journalists who have done really important work in reporting this story in the past couple of years – most notably Benedict Collins at RNZ and Henry Cooke on Stuff. And it was RNZ's Laura Bootham who first reported the problems around the unregulated testing and decontamination industry way back in 2014. That was about the time that Joanne Kearney, then working at MBIE, became concerned at what looked to her like a developing scam. The information Joanne started collecting under OIA and from Tenancy Tribunal proceedings later became an important part of my story.

But in summary, let's say this: a major government agency has quite painfully held itself to account today. It would be good to think that today is also a day when news organisations reflect on their own performance.

0

Friday Music: Martin Phillipps, Snow Bound and taking stock

The Chills' album Snow Bound is released today. It's the second of a late career return for the band and its leader Martin Phillipps that seemed an unlikely prospect for most of the 20 years before it actually happened.

But pretty much from the opening bars, Snow Bound is palpably a different record to Silver Bullets, the band's first with the British label Fire Records. It finds Martin at the stage of taking stock, no more so than on the second track, 'Time to Atone':

We made mistakes and we caused heartache

Woke up, now it's time to atone

As the interview below indicates, individual songs aren't necessarily about what you'd think, and some, like the title track, are related in the person of a character rather than the singer himself. But there's no mistaking a sense of assessment.

It also sounds different. With producer Greg Haver at the helm, it's richer and more melodic. I saw the band's manager Scott Muir a couple of weeks ago and he told me that while Martin had made albums before and knew the score, Haver pushed the rest of the band harder than they'd been pushed before, to good end.

The album arrives with a two-year documentary feature on the band close to wrapping and Martin's well-publicised battle with a particularly tough strain of Hepatitis C that ravaged his liver not quite won, but in a much better place than it was. It's worth recalling that when the Fire Records deal was signed, Martin was talking openly about not having a lot of time left. Now, he's planning out a year of touring and promotion for the album and the forthcoming film. Most of us don't experience something like that in our lives

I had a chat with my old friend recently about the album and where he's at.

I noticed a different feeling the moment I put this album on. It feels different it feels like you've reached a point of looking up and taking stock. Is that how you see it?

That's certainly part of it. I should explain that I was actually going to write a completely different record after Silver Bullets, but with health factors and other things, by the time I got the equipment for my home studio I didn't really have time to get on top of it.

So I looked at the material I've been writing and realised there was a common theme to it, which was that it was time to reassess where I stood with things and realising that that was a very common state to be in for my age group. This common thing of 'oh, you're an old white male and you're redundant'. And actually no, I feel like I've got a lifetime of experience to share – how do we go about doing that?

And yet you're not angry about it in these songs. Whereas Silver Bullets was quite angry in place. You were pissed off at things.

That's probably quite true. The stated aim of Silver Bullets was that it was more reactionary than its distant predecessor Soft Bomb, which was pacifist. Now it's just more consolidation. There's a quote where I talked about this being a possible Carole King Tapestry for the time. I feel like we're in the same boat as the sixties protest generation or the beatniks 10 years before were – where you seriously feel you've made headway and helped change the world and all of a sudden you're watching it slip back. Trying to work out what you can do, how you can still contribute.

Is the 'The Greatest of Guides' about Roy Colbert?

No, it's not. I've taken to actually not telling people, asking interviewers who they think it is before I say. You're the third person to think it's Roy. It's about people like Bowie, Lou Reed, Prince – the pioneers going forward into unknown territory and coming back. The guide could stand for Roy, but not the line about cutting lines through the snow so the show could go on.

But having said that, it's more about 2016, the bad year for our age group's celebrity deaths. I was almost surprised by the level of surprise – 'what a terrible year, I hope it doesn't go on like this' – and I'm thinking, gosh, this is where it starts, this is what happened to our parents, just watching all your heroes die off'.

Was you thinking about that partly to do with you having to contemplate your own mortality in recent years?

Certainly, that permeates the whole record in some ways. Time to reassess what I've done. One of my rules is that I don't want to release stuff which is just adding to the heap of music out there. It's got to have some sort of poignance to it, some sort of relevance.

So if I think that I'm still able to put into words things that other people are expressing, even if it is drawing on personal experience, then it's worthwhile.

The reason I wondered about that song is because I've had the experience of an old friend dying this year, and it's made me think a lot about tribe and identity and who I am.

I suppose my moment like that was Peter Gutteridge. It's a strange thing when you realise that the person who's died was in what would be their mid-life and you've known them since their teens. Acknowledging that the slide into old age really does start getting steeper and faster. There's a 20-year period where you're more or less the same person – and then all of a sudden, whew, off you go.

Is 'Scarred' about Hep C?

'Scarred' is about learing bounadries and how much you can give away of yourself without feeling depleted. One aspect of that is through social media. It's just about drawng boundaries. And also my wee celebrity thing and just realising that the nature of media is to try and give everybody what they want – another selfie, another autograph – and realising that they're kind of walking away with a bit of you and you're feeling, not used, but … it's a strange feeling.

Part of that came out on the Aldous Harding tour. I did solo supports on that and she was doing the thing of not talking to the audience. New Zealanders wouldn't quite let her get away with that like they have in Europe, but she said to the audience the reason for it is "I'm trying to protect you and I'm trying to protect me." That was very thoughtful. She's already being very thoughtful about that two-lane highway of expectations.

How has the making of the Chills documentary been feeding into what you've thinking and writing about. I imagine that once you start going through the back pages, you're back there.

That's been quite a considerable thing. It's a couple of years now we've been doing it and it'll be wound up by the end of the year, but I'm still not quite done with it. It's good that my manager Scott Muir and I over the last 10 to 15 years have done a lot of organising of my archives. Not just Chills stuff, but the whole New Zealand indie scene stuff I've got. That's made a historical pathway for the documentary.

From a personal point of view, I've now done at least a hundred hours of interviews for this record and obviously some of it gets into areas that you've already dealt with once and tried to put behind you, areas of conflict and personal deception and all sorts of things. I knew that's what we were getting into and I believed [the producers'] stated aims to keep it fair and honest and I believe that's what they're doing. But yeah, it's been quite a demanding ride.

When is the film due to come out?

As far as I know, they're finishing everything before the end of the year, so it'll be the international festivals, which tend to be February-March – meaning it'll be back in New Zealand about August next year.

Do you expect to go to some of the festivals?

It's tricky. We're trying to promote the album through the States and Europe and we also want to be available to do this with me solo or the band. So there's a big juggling thing going on at the moment about what that involves. You can't just vaguely get a visa for the States and turn up when you want – not any more you can't anyway.

So we're trying to do a good comprehensive plan for at least the next year for promotion for both things.

It must be gratifying since Silver Bullets that it's become evident that there still very much is international interest in what you. Did you have the fear that everyone had forgotten?

I wasn't sure. And the best way of finding out was that I very much took the reins of overall production and sound of Silver Bullets – because I didn't want any credit going to some producer for having picked me out of the gutter and wrung the last few drops of talent out of me.

But it was time now to get a producer in and Greg Haver was just great for us to work with.

With Silver Bullets, it was probably my fault and I told people at the time that some of the material had roots going back many years and so it did give the impression of one last tidy-up effort. But now we've got this one and I think the general response has been that Snow Bound is probably the better album. It's certainly a positive step along the road.

One thing that strikes me about it is how melodic it is. You write pop songs, so melody's always been a key part of it, but I'm really noticing it this time.

I'm glad you said that. Because it has occurred to me, in a weird way. It could be because we’ve done so few albums over these decades, but I notice a lot of people who are still making music tend to sort of drop the melody. In particular, Bowie and Scott Walker, two big influences, you start finding interesting chord changes with essentially sort of monotone vocal lines going through them. But I love good melodies. It's still doing the same thing I used to do – which is cover a darker topic with a brighter or more powerful sound.

I also thought that your singing's more ambitious on this record, or that you’re writing more ambitious melodies for yourself to sing.

What's happened is that I've finally learned to write things that I can sing. I never used to worry when I was young about putting things in the register that I can sing. I was unaware you could do that. I think I have taken it up a few notches.

It's like acting: you have to over-act it for it to come across as even normal. That's a learned skill.

So what happens for the band after the album is released?

We've got the New Zealand tour, which is essentially the four extended weekends. We've got three band members with families now and all of them need to have money continuing for their families while they're away, so we have to plan very carefully. Which brings me back to what I was talking about – the reality of touring the States and Europe is that we need to be able to guarantee that we're covering all those costs, as well as the expected 20 grand-plus in air fares.

Fire Records is saying they're looking at promoting this record for at least a year, if not more. I would hope that it helps us achieve our aim of shifting up onto the festival circuit, where we can raise out game and possibly start earning a living from it. Which would be great.

It's impressive that they've made that commitment up front.

Frankly, I was really touched. And it was in the back of my mind that it would not be the first time that it would not be the first time for a band that once the launch and the overseas tour are done, people leave the band. We had a serious talk with them about it and they are really committed. Some of their partners are not that thrilled with it, but that's the reality of how much they're sticking up for it.

How are you? How's your health?

I'm certainly feeling better than I was. It's an ongoing thing and to a degree uncertain, so I'll always be keeping an eye on things. But it's been good having the documentary follow the whole process. It's something they weren't expecting to happen.

But certainly, where I was nervous about sustaining energy through the Silver Bullets tour, I feel much more confident about it this time. I wasn't even sure I could sing on consecutive nights last time. It turned out I could.

–––

On quite a different plane – but hey, it's all pop – Kylie Minogue headlined the BBC Radio 2 Live concert last week and gee there were some moments. Look at all the big, husky blokes singing along to 'Can't Get You Out of My Head':

And then she rickrolled everyone! If this doesn't make you smile, your heart is charred and shrunken and we will have to reassess our friendship:

Britain may be speeding towards a cliff-edge, its government may be dysfunctional and its Opposition party fighting its own creepy anti-semitic fringe, but the people still know how to have a night out.

–––

The first proper lineup reveal for Splore 2019 is out and it's a strong one. Orbital and Rudimental will be big and David Rodigan is an iconic booking. The local slate – including The Beths, Princess Chelsea, Jess B, Tali, Ijebu Pleasure Club and K2K – is also pretty sweet. It's great to see so many women being booked.

Laneway 2019 makes its first lineup announcement next week.

–––

Even before Doprah ran out of momentum, the band's singer Indira Force had become one of those artists burdened with expectations of success, even greatness. She hadn't really even had a chance to invent herself. It's taken work and time and there have been a couple of false starts, but this week, her single 'Demeter' came out on Flying Nun, along with this remarkable video:

It's from her album as Indi, Precipice, which is out next month.

–––

Tunes!

With news that Eddie Johnston, one of a crop of New Zealand artists plying their trade in LA, is coming home to play some shows as Lontalius next month, Eddie has dropped a new track from his other, dancier identity, Race Banyon:

And here's a nice Nina Simone remix. Free download here.

–––

4

Housing, homeless and drugs: an interview with Moira Lawler

A while ago, Moira Lawler got a concerned call from Wellington.

Something bad had happened with a Housing First tenant and government officials in Wellington were very unhappy. There would have to be a no-surprises policy around anything that might be risky, the caller said. Be careful what you wish for, she replied.

"I said, we're going to have to agree a list then, because every day something risky happens in our programme and I'm pretty sure you don't want to hear about all of them!" recalls Lawler, the CEO of Lifewise Trust, which operates the Housing First programme in central Auckland, in partnership with Auckland City Mission.

That list might include deaths, drug busts, fires and assaults. They've all happened in the past year and a half.

"This is unusual work," Lawler observes.

Politicians love Housing First, the way the words sound. When she announced $9 million of new funding to help house vulnerable New Zealanders in 2016, Paula Bennett declared herself "particularly pleased" that $3 million of the new money was going to establish Housing First. (Of that Lifewise and the Mission received $500,000 to run the first two years of the programme in central Auckland.) For the current government, Housing First is the touchstone of its promise that no one would need to be homeless this winter.

But what is it, exactly? Housing First is a social policy developed about 20 years ago in the US, focused on getting the most vulnerable homeless people into stable accommodation, without preconditions, as a first step to addressing any of their other problems. It explicitly holds that any of the things that might be disqualifying in other housing schemes – in particular, substance abuse – are not a barrier to being housed.

Nearly all the people housed in central Auckland have "complex needs" and for most of those their needs involve substance abuse.

"The programme is a harm minimisation programme," says Lawler. "You can use the language of Housing First but unless you're applying the model as it was intended to be applied, then you won't necessarily get the outcomes the evidence suggests. One of the central tenets of Housing First is that it's harm minimisation.

"We will house people regardless of their current mental or physical wellbeing and regardless of their history of substance abuse. And it's really important that people on the street understand that, because obviously everybody has the best chance of success if that's openly disclosed."

This might seem jarring coming from the head of a religious organisation, which is what Lifewise is. It's one of three charitable trusts, along with Methodist Mission Northern and Airedale Property Trust, operated by the Methodist church and the church's "theological principles", emphasising dignity and respect, are outlined on its website.

"We got Housing First off the ground because, like City Mission, all of our work with homelessness has been self-funded for 50-plus years. So for a long time we didn't have anyone saying 'if you don't do this, you won't get your money'. Well, you haven't funded us anyway, so we're going to do it.

"Having government come on board is a massive bonus, but also a constraint. We need them to understand what we're trying to do, not treat it like a bog-standard programme – because it isn't."

Lawler herself comes from a secular background. She worked for 13 years for the Porirua City Council, rising from a community development role to become the council's general manager of strategy and planning. She worked alongside Lifewise's sister trust, Wesley Community Action (which provides resources to the gang women behind the New Zealand P Pull group that supports people and families getting off meth) and she's clear on the fact that Lifewise's independence is crucial to the conversations that Housing First requires.

"It means you can have really practical conversations," she says. "We did a lot of design work before we started with people with lived experience – and got really kind of gnarly sometimes.

"At the time, the major concern was P use. If you're going to use, what would it look like for you to sustain your tenancy? Really practical stuff, like people use P inside because it's hard to light. Okay, that's a practical consideration. If we need you to use outside of your unit, does that mean we have to give you a covered balcony? Or should we consider a garden shed? 

"Because you're going to use, but we don't want you to use inside. That was when meth testing was the big concern. Now it's been shown, as we always thought, that that's bollocks anyway. But nonetheless, if that's the thing that’s going to get you evicted, how do we deal with that?

"We had people who said 'I need a sign on my door that says my unit is meth-tested monthly, so that I can point my friends to that and say, look, here's why you can't smoke inside'. Or you might want to do testing yourself. We had tenants who would do their own testing, we gave them little kits, so they knew when they had to do a wash-down themselves.

"It's just trying to keep it really practical. We're not here to judge about your lifestyle, we're here to make sure you're housed. And then once people really trust that that's the case, then of course most people think, man, I should do something about my use. That's what the evidence shows – that that will come later. If you have built people's confidence that you're not trying to compel them to do something, you're not trying to make them jump through hoops and you are going to stick with them in the housing space. That’s what Housing First does."

There is only one rule.

"You have to agree to visits from the team. The nature of those visits, what the team assists you with, you create with them, but you have to agree to be visited."

The visits are key to the other important part of the Housing First model: the wraparound support.

"Very intensive, skilled wraparound," Lawler explains. "And I don't mean necessarily clinically or professionally skilled, I mean skilled in terms of the right values and approaches and creativity. By definition, people who need our programme have been through every other programme, so there's no point offering them a bog-standard social work response, because they've seen that and it didn't work."

Lifewise has funding to work with 93 people and at the time I spoke to Lawler had 63 in housing.

"Our biggest fear is that if we had 40 tenants say all at once, okay I'm done with my substance abuse, I want addiction support now, there's nowhere for them to go. So it's all very well to say they shouldn't be using substances – what's the pathway we're offering people?

"There's not enough of it, it's not creative enough. We offer the one thing – would you like to come and do what's essentially a 12-Step programme. But what if they've done that twice before and it didn't work?"

Even with limited funding, Housing First, as implemented in Auckland, has had its successes. Fifty three people, including the first person housed in the scheme, have been moved to permanent housing. A woman who left the programme ("she didn't feel safe indoors") recently returned for another try.

"And that’s a success story from my point of view. They know they can come back and give it another go after everyone's had a chance to reflect. That's what Housing First is. There is no point at which we'll say, 'that's it, we're done'.

"We have another story that's sad but beautiful. We had a man who was a chronic alcoholic. He was in late-stage cirrhosis of the liver, had spent a lot of time in hospital, but every time he left hospital he was on the street. People were really concerned about him.

"He was housed and he did really well – he loved his house. He continued to drink and was told at hospital that he probably didn't have long to live. He reconnected with family down country he hadn't seen in years, and they said, come home. They nursed him. He died, but he died with them, with family. What else could you want, really?"

Lifewise was developing its programme when a developing problem with synthetic cannabis use suddenly became acute.

"The figures being reported are an undercount," says Lawler. "We've had three or four deaths just in our little project, but they're not reported as synthetics deaths because no one's really sure.

"Synthetics are really cheap. We've had one of our whanau arrested and charged with dealing and one of the things the police said that really stuck with me was that their unit was full of coins. You don't make your fortune dealing synthetics. It's a small-change drug.

"But people use it because it's all they can afford. So if you ask people, would you rather use clean, commercially-grown beautiful marijuana from Gisborne or the Far North, most people would say yes, of course they would. But they can't afford it. They can't afford a drug that isn't going to kill them, only a drug that they know over time will kill them. It's a poverty issue.

"Lawyers aren't killing themselves using synthetics. They can afford cocaine."

Lawler says a key part of the Housing First programme is that it's a "scattered site" model. The Airedale trust (which also manages the asset income that allows Lifewise to operate) rents apartments in the general community and Lifewise places tenants in them. These are, she says, "adult tenancies in the adult world". Tenants can be evicted – there's just no such thing as a last chance.

That means the two church trusts embracing a non-trivial level of risk – notably in the case of the ground floor of Housing NZ's Grey Avenue apartments, which Lifewise took over while the government agency's panic over supposed "meth contamination" was still in motion.

Greys Avenue is, she says, "our most challenging site". Tenants who'd previously been evicted were wary about going back and the property managers who'd had to evict them weren't wild about seeing them again either. Some Housing First tenants simply believed it was too risky for them. It's a symptom, says Lawler, of the profound change in the past three or four decades in who can actually access pubic housing.

"High-functioning communities have a mix of people. There's the older couple who can look after others, there's the young mother who's got a bit of energy – there are levellers. In a lot of those intense Housing NZ sites now there's isn't that blend any more – just a lot of really vulnerable people trying to survive and not necessarily having the capacity to support each other."

That’s why Lawler believes "scattered sites" is a stronger concept than the "congregate model" of placing vulnerable people on a single site.

And yet, the City Mission has opted for that congregate model in the shape of its widely-praised Mission Homeground development on Hobson Street.

"The support housing model, a place you can live where there are onsite staff 24-7, is suitable for some people. Not for everyone, but for some people. In particular it's suitable for people who do not have strong confidence in their decision-making, who want24-7 support, who struggle to make decisions in their own interests. But we have to make available the choice to people to live independently in the community too. Otherwise we're just institutionalising people."

Lawler believes – while emphasising that she doesn't have the hard data – that most of the people Lifewise works with develop their severe substance abuse problems because of their homelessness rather than the reverse.

"No one asks: were you a substance abuser before you become homeless, or is your substance abuse a function of your homelessness? And I suspect increasingly it's the latter. Because that's one of the ways you survive, by using whatever's cheap and handy to blunt your day. People are being made unwell in a very dangerous way by their homelessness."

She's encouraged by the new building in public housing and hopeful that "the tide is turning" for approaches like Housing First. She says the average time on the street of the people Lifewise is housing is 14 years.

"And most of them have complex issues. This is the group that people thought didn't want to be housed and would never be housed. We've proven it's possible.

"But the bulk of the government funding is still in the emergency space. So we haven't won yet over the view that Housing First is some boutique thing for a few people and everyone else can be in a motel for a month and then their lives will improve. There's no evidence that that's an effective way to spend money. That's the challenge. We need to tip that money into a sustainable housing approach."

The local Housing First programme has received a $300,000 top-up to take it through to November and Lifewise is currently in talks with the Ministry of Social Development about future funding. She thinks between 300 and 500 people could benefit from the service if funding was available. But it will, says Lawler, take more than just money to really address their problems.

"This is often an intergenerational issue – so how do we stop thinking about it as an individual fault? We have this mentality where we want to fix individuals and we won't fix you unless you comply and you agree to stop doing things. It's all a little bit Victorian.

"Everything we know about addiction says you can't make someone not be an addict. No amount of wanting it to happen is going to make it happen. They have to do things on their own terms. So how do we make that more possible for people?"

––– 

As you may have noticed, this interview also appeared earlier today on The Spinoff. They've kindly agreed to its republication here, so we can talk about it. I've also added a few things I couldn't fit into the orignal word-count ...

How are the police with this?

 "In the city centre, the police have been great, actually. They've always been on board, they've always had a mature approach to this. They have some of the same issues we have. Someone will be picked up in a cell and they may need a mental health assessment or a detox assessment. We're all struggling to access services."

On Lifewise's work in Rotorua:

"Lifewise is also a mental health and addictions provider in Rotorua, where we work mainly with Māori whanau. We have a tikanga Māori programme there that does what they call pre-and-post. So it's not clinical detox, it's how do you get stabilised and ready for a clinical programme – and then once you've been in that programme, how are you thinking about how you're going to live in the community? Where, with who, doing what?

"From that I guess we have learned a bit about the world of addictions and what works and what doesn't work. My own view is that harm minimisation is not well-understood in New Zealand. We have a very narrow range of addiction support options and most of them are compliance-focused.

"I'm not a medical expert or an addictions expert, so all I'm giving you is my own observation. Which is that we don't do this particularly well. We have a population with a very high level of substance abuse, that it also marginalised, and so by definition lacks access to most things. And we have to come up with some better solutions."

Evidence-based approaches are often a hard sell to the system. Was that your experience with Housing First?

"Oh yeah. And to everyone– to our own staff! We talked to them about Housing First, here's the model and they went yeah, that looks good. And then we went okay now, we're in a design process and we're going to look at how we implement this – and there was an element of, what, you mean we're really going to do this?

"So those of us who've been in the sector for a long time get used to one way of doing things. And in the homeless community. One of our peer support workers, even people who are homeless, went 'that won't work, you can't just put addled people into housing and expect them to do well'. But it does."

With synthetics, have you been in a position where you've been able to say to people in your care, there's a bad batch, avoid it? Because when you look at the pattern, synthetics deaths are always clustered, because someone's over-dosed it.

"They know that. So that conversation happens amongst the groups. We have had a couple of conversations with people around synthetics and what they want to do. And that's ended up being conversations about medical advice and how to look after people. Will the ambulance come if you call? Initially there was a bit of scuttlebutt on the street saying if you call the ambulance and it's synthetics, they won't come. It's not true.

"I was at a stakeholder meeting yesterday. I tell everyone. They'll say, oh, we walk past people and we're not sure if they're alright. And I say, well, stop and ask. Are you okay, should I call an ambulance? And if they don't answer you, call an ambulance. It's as simple as that. Because people are dying."

8

Music: The Others Way, a victory of tribe over mere demographics

As you may know, or have heard, this year's The Others Way festival was quite a party. And I think it's worth exploring why. The bands, of course. The sold-out crowd, certainly. But there's a level on which 45 acts, 13 venues and thousands of people are just so many things to go wrong. The fact that they didn't speaks volumes about the level of insight and expertise that went into curating this thing. I'm pretty much in awe of how right the TOW team got it this year.

There's another thing that made it special. At one point last Friday night I went directly from watching a hugely talented 18 year-old singer to a band led by a man well into his sixties. The crowds around me spanned a similar range. The Others Way, even more than previous years, was a victory of tribe over mere demographics. Students stood shoulder to shoulder with the ministers of Finance and Agriculture. We all knew why we were there and we knew it couldn't be any other place but home on Karangahape Road.

I only got to seven of the venues, but even that made for a busy evening. The Beths at The Studio was a happy way to start, not just because there's such a sense of excitement around them at the moment, but because, well, it's music that makes people happy, delivered with a loveable lack of pretension. Here they are playing one of my favourite songs from their debut album, 'Little Death'

Such is the buzz around The Beths that it looks like they're going to spend a fair bit of the next 12 months out of the country, so I'm glad I caught them now.

From there, my buddy and I headed for Whammy Backroom to catch Bene, who's a friend's daughter. She's 18 and only started playing gigs fairly recently. So how on earth does she have so many good songs? And how does her band have its shit together like that? I think you're going to be hearing a lot more of Bene, put it that way.

As Bene wound up, Collision had already kicked off down at the Samoa House fale, so we got there asap. Collision, as regular readers will know, were vaulted back into the spotlight by this year's Heed the Call compilation. But they hadn't played in New Zealand for 40 years: would there be enough people who knew who they were to form a crowd?

The answer is yes. I was pretty stunned to find the fale going off – and the band were clearly surprised and delighted too. They were great fun. And while I could have done without the Pacific reggae reversioning of some of the songs from their album (bandleader Hira Morgan still plays the songs in his own right and has clearly adapted them to current tastes), when they were funky they were damn funky. No more so than in the closing rendition of of Dalvanius's disco monster 'Voodoo Lady', for which they provided the original backing track.

From there, it was a few doors down to Anthology Lounge, where a smallish but lively crowd was moving to the fast-twitch beats of the Julien Dyne and Jonathan Crayford duo Two Farben. I had a dance and a sit down and I got this little video of Julien absolutely tearing it up on the drumkit.

We dallied so comfortably at the lounge that we were in danger of missing one of the sets I'd been most excited about – the Headless Chickens back together. But we rushed over the the road and got ourselves there in time. ("Getting there", of course, meant pushing our way through the crush at The Studio's eternal bloody bottleneck and into a good spot on the dancefloor.)

About now, dear reader, I reached the point at all such events where I put my phone away for everyone's good. Not only because things were getting irie – although they totally were – but because my friend Grant Fell's death has thrown my whole year out of shape and I still sometimes weep when I think about him. This gig was, as Chris Matthews announced from the stage, a tribute to him. It was the chance for everyone in the band to let it all out.

And they really did. You know, when a group has been playing a long time, slogging, aspiring to something, there are all kinds of things that can get in the way: everyone's hopes, insecurities and relationships. On Friday night it was as if all that had been wiped clean. It was time to rage at the dying of the light.

They started with 'Slice', they didn't play 'Cruise Control' and they finished with a version of 'George' in which Fiona McDonald pretty much cut loose ("shit, I've never seen her do that before," one of the band said to me later) and a thunderous 'Expecting to Fly'.

While my phone was safely in my pocket, a couple of other people captured parts of what went down. The audio on this clip of 'Mr Moon' doesn't quite capture how hulking and majestic it sounded out on the floor ...

But this Darkstation audio recording of 'Totalling Dad's Car' is bloody mint:

Note also that the Capture crew's excellent photographic roundup of the evening includes some lovely shots of the Chooks. Most notably, this one by Jackson, which ably captures the vibe of that performance of 'George':

I was fairly emotional by the time they finished and needed a little while to chill, out the back on Galatos Street, before going back inside for Bailter Space. They were loud. Epically, unthinkably loud. My ears were comfortable enough with plugs in, but it started to feel a bit physically oppressive. We retired to the top, top bar at the back, where things sounded a lot better, but eventually cut out in pursuit of some youth.

That being The Goon Sax, the band of the son of Robert Forster out of the Go-Betweens, who were on late at the Wine Cellar. I'm so glad I caught them and their wiry, stripped-back indie rock. Would definitely Goon again.

Having long since acknowledged that we were having a large night out, my buddy and I headed back up the road, pausing only to greet a mildly startled Roger Shepherd, for a really sweet selection of house music from d.tyrone and K2K at Galatos Basement. That remix of 'Big Fun' made an old man very happy.

After a little disco-dance to J-NETT at Neck of the Woods, it was [redacted] in the morning and clearly time to go the fuck home. I made it safely back to Point Chevalier and I didn't even lose my reading glasses. Thank you so much to Matt Davis, Ben Howe and the rest of of the The Others Way team. See you next year, by which time I am confident I will have recovered from this year.

–––

By some means, I made it back out on Saturday night to see the final show of Julia Deans' album tour at the Tuning Fork. The Fork, with its voluminous drapes, can lack a little for atmosphere – but with no walls to reflect off, the sound from the stage is generally lovely. And so it proved.

I hope Julia can keep working with the tour lineup – having both Reb Fountain and Tali present on backing vocals adds depth and colour to the songs. I gather my request for a guitar-shredding duel between Julia and Reb is under active consideration.

Anyway, here's Tali and Julia.

–––

Addendum. I've mentioned both K2k and d.tyrone here before, and this week it occured to me that Kathryn (K2K) actually has a 95bFM show on Friday nights and perhaps there's more of that goodness there. Yup. Here's the show page – and the most recent podcast there is a two-hour back-to-back mix with d.tyrone, presumably undertaken as a warm-up for The Others Way the following Friday. It's great!

Also, Yadana Saw had a yarn with Julien Dyne about his most treasured tracks, for The RNZ Mixtape. Everything from krautrock to jazz.

–––

Some video: the new BBC documentary Pump Up the Bhangra tells a familiar story of the way claiming and reshaping popular music lets young Britons define themselves. In this case, not simply as Asian, but British Asian. I really enjoyed this, and learned a lot.

Linton Kwesi Johnson makes similar points about his own generation in a new short video interview here.

And Michael Stipe on BBC Newsnight, being all thoughtful and likeable.

–––

The New Zealand Music Foundation, at the impetus of Brent Eccles and Morgan Donoghue, is turning its eye towards the people in the music industry we often mistakenly think are indestructible. The Roadie for Roadies is a walk across the Auckland isthmus, from Onehunga to central Auckland. You can help out too.

Audioculture has the story of New Zealand's forgotten glam heroes: Skylord.

Under the Radar has the lowdown on Orchestra of Spheres' new single, plus an exclusive stream.

And The Spinoff Music gets a remarkably strong lineup of 2018 Silver Scrolls finalists to talk about each others' tunes.

–––

Tunes!

Just the one. A fine Fatneck take on an oldie that samples the even older 'Spank' by Jimmy "Bo" Horne (simple free download without any Hypeddit irritation):

–––

PS: Hey, I’m doing a TGIF show on Marty Duda’s new Radio 13, 4-6pm tomorrow. Big Friday disco yo. Stream is here