By Te Karere

In today's instalment of our Tūao Toa series, we meet a lady who was homeless for many years and has now turned to help those she use to live rough with on the streets.

Kataraina Ruatara says she considers the homeless her whanau and anything she can do to help solve the homeless situation in Auckland gives her great satisfaction, “Social housing, WINZ, ID, birth certificate, anything. If I know it, I'll help them.”

She is a volunteer for Lifewise, she helps the homeless to find homes and social welfare and she herself lived on the streets of Auckland for 15 years, “I tried moving away and it had just become one of many addictions, the city.”

It was a shameful time but she was caught up in the addictions that come with living on the streets, she elaborates saying, “It was depression and things like that. Getting involved with more alcohol than you should. Recognising other drugs I could take and did.”

Still walking the streets today, but now she is the one helping others to have a better life like her, “Knowing how embarrassed they can be talking about some things that they don't really want to talk about. But with talking to me it would be easier because being their sister, being their aunty, being their mum, being a street mum around these streets for over 15 years.”

Ruatara works from Merge Cafe on K Road; it’s a place for those who need help to get the help they need.

Manu, the Merge Café owner adds, “She’s been there, and she's been on the streets for so long that she knows the very first thing and that is how to connect with the homeless community.”

Although her work is being recognised by those around her, she says the rewarding thing for her is that she is making a difference in what has become a very big issue.