Garage life for two years

OVERCROWDED: Fonima Crichton with three of her four children, from left: Essie, 5, Kris, 9 months, and William, 11, live in a family friend’s garage.
OVERCROWDED: Fonima Crichton with three of her four children, from left: Essie, 5, Kris, 9 months, and William, 11, live in a family friend’s garage.

Tucked down a West Auckland driveway in a corrugated iron double garage lives the Crichton family.

Samoan lavalavas are attached to the ceiling for insulation and towels hang from makeshift clotheslines over beds and dressing tables.

Fonima Crichton has lived in the garage with husband Fossie and four children, including 9-month-old baby Kris, for two years and has been trying for months to find better living conditions for her family.

"I want to raise my family properly and want my kids to live a good life," she says.

It was the pursuit of a good life that saw the family become homeless more than two years ago.

Mr Crichton supported them working as a welder earning $34,000 before he quit to become a minister for the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

In December he will finish the free three-year church minister's course and start looking for a job.

"It will be a better life for me and my kids," he says.

The family doesn't have a kitchen and lives off noodles, rice and tuna and shares a bathroom with their landlords - family friends who live on the property.

They receive $200 a week from Inland Revenue's family assistance benefit and rent costs them $150, meaning a scarce $50 remains for food and other expenses.

Mrs Crichton says it's difficult raising a baby in a confined space and shared living is taking its toll on her other children who often attend school tired after being woken in the night from the baby's crying.

Sickness is also a concern.

"We never got sick before but since living here I've had to take Kris to the hospital twice with the flu," she says.

The Te Atatu Peninsula family has been on Housing New Zealand's waiting list for a new home since January and there are others like them too. Henderson's Housing New Zealand office holds the country's biggest waiting list of families wanting better living conditions - more than earthquake ravaged Christchurch.

The Monte Cecilia Housing Trust has also been advocating for a better environment for the family.

The trust offers a range of housing services to help low income families find affordable and appropriate housing.

Next week the Spotlight on Housing campaign organised by the Housing Call To Action group will assist tenants with information about their rights and responsibilities, bill payment information and costs of running different electrical appliances.

Trust housing social worker Louise Guy says it's important the Crichtons and families like them are relocated as their health and wellbeing is at risk.

"The place is unlined which can cause sickness and their needs aren't being met," she says.

"People living in places like garages are what we call ‘hidden homeless'."

Spotlight on Housing seminars will be held across West Auckland from October 7 to 11.

Call Ms Guy on 09-832 6634 or 027 249 4823 for more information.

Western Leader