CHB Mail - 2021-07-22


‘Kahukura works for my brother’


The brother of a Kahukura participant says for the first time in almost 20 years it feels like his gang member sibling has kicked his addiction. Kahukura is a controversial meth rehab programme for Mongrel Mob members which has received $2.75 million from the Proceeds of Crime Fund. It is based at Tapairu Marae, outside of Waipawa, and involves Sonny Smith, a Mongrel Mob leader who lives in the area, and his wife Mahinaarangi Smith. Damian (not his real name) said a difficult relationship with their father pushed his brother into the Mongrel Mob at a young age and it was through his involvement with the gang that his brother became an addict. “Our fight has always been the same thing.” After almost 20 years, though, his brother realised that the drugs weren’t working for him, Damian said. “He’d had enough. He wanted to do better with his life.” Damian’s brother learned about the Kahukura programme, a live-in ma¯rae-based programme aimed at addressing trauma and drug-seeking behaviour, through his connections in the Mob. He self-referred to the programme. “This is the first time in 18 years that he’s reached out. “Only time will tell but it’s the first time he’s wanted to stay away [from drugs].” “[My brother] looks cleaner. He looks like he’s there. “I feel like I’m talking to him, not to the addict. “It’s huge.” He said it was imperative not only for the gangsters but also their children. “In the short time my brother’s been there, I can see the changes. Now his family comes first.” A lot of the activities related to “self-awareness” and “identity”. One of the reasons he thought the programme would be so successful is its location. “There’s nowhere to run because it’s way out in the middle of nowhere.” Asked what he’d say to critics of the programme, he said, “everyone has a right to their own opinion”. “Will he take his patch off? Probably not. Will he leave the gang? Probably not. But will he learn a lesson from this programme and make some changes? Those changes are already starting to happen.” Kahukura is expected to run for three cycles of 10 weeks per year over three years, serving up to 10 participants and their wha¯nau — about 40 people — per cycle. The name “kahukura” refers to the “red cloak”, and is a term used for a warrior that acknowledges his role and leadership within his wha¯nau, hapu and iwi. Criticism of Kahukura, run by Hard2Reach, has come from police members who are unhappy with $2.75m from the Proceeds of Crime Fund helping gangs, and concerns that the programme is healing gang members who will carry on with crime. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended it, saying a pilot which ran at a Poukawa marae in Central Hawke’s Bay independently of the ministry last year had shown “signs of success”. “We either have to make a decision to fund programmes which, yes, involve people with criminal history but we are determined to address their methamphetamine addiction, or we exclude people with criminal histories from meth addiction programmes. “It is very much focused on trying to address meth addiction and the crimes that result from that addiction.” A Hastings-based peer-led addiction support service which supports the Kahukura concept is asking why they haven’t received similar funding support. “Our goal is to reach the parts of the community that don’t engage in current services and to provide immediate intervention in crisis,” said Chris Jenkins, of Kia Tipu Te Ora Trust. Their approach differed from conventional addiction services in that there was no assessment to see if people qualified for it. Jenkins said they had seen people “from all walks of life” since launching eight months ago. This included gang members, homeless people, people straight out of prison, businessmen and housewives. He said he supported the decision to fund the Kahukura programme, having spent several hours with its participants in what he described as a “powerful experience”. “The gang members on the programme genuinely wanted to change. Gang members have often experienced severe trauma and should be given the opportunity to heal like anyone else. “And when gang members heal and stop using meth, it is good for everyone. “I don’t care about the $2.75m — but I hope there’s some more where that came from.”


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