29 May 2017

Grandma says she'd be living in car without emergency housing

8:26 am on 29 May 2017

A grandmother who cares for three children says she could be living in a car or under a bridge if it wasn't for emergency housing in Lower Hutt.

Social workers Charmaine McClean-Whaanga and Rau Sparrow stand outside the new emergency house in Naenae.

Social workers Charmaine McClean-Whaanga and Rau Sparrow stand outside the new emergency house in Naenae. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

The woman in her 50s, who does not want to be named, said she was now remembering what it was like to live comfortably with a roof over her head and it was frightening to think where she could have ended up.

But the Koraunui Marae Trust that runs the house she's staying in can only put them up for 12 weeks and said it was harder than ever to find them somewhere to live.

The woman, who does not want to be named, making a coffee in the emergency house.

The woman, who does not want to be named, making a coffee in the emergency house. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

When Mrs X's landlord decided to sell the house she was renting, she and her teenage daughter and two grandchildren did not know where to go.

They tried living with family friends but that got too crowded and they had to leave.

"I found myself in a predicament of I have got nowhere to go, there is no close family around for us to go to," she said.

"Ended up in a motel and the kids could not get out and run ... We were cramped into one big room."

Mrs X said she was shocked and horrified when she realised how many people were also looking for homes.

Properties were sometimes being viewed by more than 50 people and some hopeful tenants were offering to pay more rent than what was being asked.

Mrs X said working only 20 hours a week at a bakery meant she could not compete with them.

"By this time I was quite downhearted and in disbelief about what was going on out there trying to find housing."

Work and Income put her forward for a newly opened emergency house run by Koraunui Marae Trust and her application was accepted.

"The relief of having a roof over our heads. The kids having a room to themselves again. They can go outside ... and it is safe," Mrs X said.

The house has six bedrooms, three bathrooms and large grounds which feature a tennis court. It can house up to three families.

The government is spending $354 million to secure 2158 emergency houses by the end of December to support up to 8600 families annually.

Providers like Koraunui Marae Trust are contracted by Work and Income to house whānau for 12 weeks and to find them somewhere to live in that time.

Koraunui Marae Trust manager Heneriata Gemmell.

Heneriata Gemmell said a lot of Hutt Valley Housing New Zealand houses had been pulled down which made it even harder to find people homes. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

But trust manager Heneriata Gemmell said it was not long enough.

"Our women are very vulnerable, we need to put them in a good safe space and that does not just take 12 weeks," she said.

The trust has been running another emergency house for about 20 years and some whānau have stayed on for up to six months.

Ms Gemmell said a lot of Housing New Zealand houses have been pulled down in Hutt Valley which makes it harder than ever to find people homes.

"We are just lucky to get some of our women into houses."

The team assess the health needs of the whānau and provide budgeting advice and other services.

Front Charmaine McClean-Whaanga and back Rau Sparrow, social workers for Koraunui Marae.

Front Charmaine McClean-Whaanga and back Rau Sparrow, social workers for Koraunui Marae. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

Trust social worker Charmaine McClean-Whaanga said they do not get enough time to get whānau back on their feet before sending them off.

"We want to go all the way with the family but due to the contract our hands are tied as well - which is really sad," she said.

"We need houses for our families that come into the emergency house, to transition into a house, not a boarding place or a one bedroom house."

Mrs X said she was hopeful she would find a home in a few weeks time, ideally close to the bakery where she works.

She is frightened to think about where she would be without the emergency accommodation.

"I could be in a car, under a bridge ... probably still in a hotel, which would put me in financial ruin."

She is grateful for the support of the Koraunui women and for now she will make the most of having the house to herself before other tenants move in.

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