Searching for aroha in Aranui

STRUGGLING: Damien Rahurahu lives in the most deprived area of the most deprived suburb in Christchurch but says there is more to his community than its reputation and statistics.
STRUGGLING: Damien Rahurahu lives in the most deprived area of the most deprived suburb in Christchurch but says there is more to his community than its reputation and statistics.

In the most deprived block of the most deprived suburb of Christchurch, Damien Rahurahu leant over his fence and inspected his "million dollar view". Up until recently he lived off $20 a week.

There was a playground and a school and families walking their children in strollers. Over the other side of the park was a Salvation Army drop-in centre that Rahurahu felt bad about using so often that occasionally he travelled to the Linwood centre to get food.

When he first arrived in Aranui about two-and-a-half years ago, he had nothing. The earthquakes had forced him from his rental home. Then the June 2011 earthquake forced him from his brother's garage. Because of a mix-up in his entitlements, he lived for two and a half years on $20 a week from a sickness benefit. As a teenager he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to a childhood trauma.

When he moved to Hampshire St, people said that the ring road around Wainoni park was the worst in the city. It had a reputation. It was poor. It had issues with crime. A short walk away were hollowed-out cars, graffiti-splattered shops and outlets with names like "Coin Save".

But when he got there Rahurahu discovered a different place.

"The neighbourhood here provided for me. I had nothing. They gave me a fridge and filled it with food. The community keeps us going."

But according to the latest New Zealand Deprivation Index, Rahurahu lives in the most deprived part of the most deprived suburb in the city. On a scale of 1 to 10, Aranui was a 10. The result was the same as it was at the last index in 2006. While one area in Avonside scored lower, the Aranui ring road was the most dramatic example of widespread deprivation.

Nearby Phillipstown, Waltham, Bexley and Avonside all scored nine on the index. A pocket of Aidenfield, a new subdivision in Halswell, was the least deprived area in the city.

The index was based on census data like home ownership, income, living space and access to a vehicle.

Rahurahu lived in a one-bedroom state house. Now, he was given $77 a week. The median personal income for the block was $13,800. Citywide it was more than double that. In the Aidenfield block it was $47,500. Also, Rahurahu did not have a car.

On paper, this pocket of Aranui was an easy target, Rahurahu said.

"But we would rather people know us for who we are, not the neighbourhood we live in."

At 28 years old, he was feeling older. He had started cleaning up his small front garden that used to be littered with broken televisions. Now, it was freshly mown. He wanted to get back into cooking, a job he once had and still loved. But he had also been in prison for more than two years after assaulting someone with a baseball bat. He had spent the better part of his teenage years in court. He said he had come out on the "bright side" but now struggled to get work due to his past.

"It's my fault to be in the situation I am in but still it would be good to get a bit more help."

Six-and-a-half years on from leaving prison, Rahurahu did not see much way forward.

The winter would be tough, he said. He only had an old heater that chewed through about $6 an hour. He had to be careful when he turned it on. Rahurahu had three children to three different mothers. One of them, who is now nine, he never saw. The two others came around most days but it was difficult that there was not much he could offer them.

All he had was his "million-dollar view".

"Everywhere else they are staring at houses." There had been discussions about building a new super school in the park but Rahurahu said he would do everything to stop that happening. He wanted to keep his view.

"Leave us with what we have got. It's all we have got."

The Press