The slums of Jebson Pl

19:31, Nov 07 2014
jebson place
HANGING IN THERE: Tama Johns who has lived near Jebson Place for three years.

It is one of Hamilton's worst slum areas. So bad that its houses are set to be demolished and the residents moved elsewhere. Aimie Cronin talks to some of them about life on Jebson Place and its surrounding streets.

This story starts on Old Farm Road, with a longhaired man who has faded tattoos on his hands and a swing for the kids out front.

His is the house on the corner of what they call the Bermuda Triangle: the 58 units on the 21,000 square metre site running along Old Farm Road, Cassidy Street, Dey Street, and through the middle, Jebson Place.

He's lived here almost three years. The house has had it, but he doesn't want to complain because he gets it cheap through Housing New Zealand and it keeps the rain off his head. His name's Tama Johns, he's 43, he's wearing gumboots, he smiles when he talks regardless of the subject, he works part time as a technician at the academy of performing arts and sometimes, he gets to hear concert pianists play music he's never heard.

He has a son and a grand daughter in his care. His grand daughter is deaf and has asthma and he worries about the merciless winters that drum ill-health into her. The walls don't protect them. He keeps the oven on as the most effective transmitter of warmth he can access and afford. Inside it's tidy enough, but the place is crawling with mice. He's never seen so many. It's like the only reliable thing the house does is decline. Still, he'd rather stay.

In March, Housing New Zealand notified the 39 tenants in the block centered around Jebson Place, that the houses they lived in would be demolished and they would likely be relocated before year's end. Eight months later and plans haven't advanced much. It's been confirmed one of the streets on the block will be occupied with 20 state houses as part of a mixed ownership model to integrate HNZ tenants with the rest of the community. The new timeframe indicates progress in the next 12 months, but who knows.

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LONELY LIFE: Lana Radcliffe wants out. Photo: PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

You get to Jebson by driving down desirable streets and you gulp because you've gone too far. You hum past on the expressway and see the squalor over the fence and you wonder who the hell lives there? - but you've forgotten about them by the time you reach the lights. Life for the people here is demoralising, they say it over and over. They're not exactly proud. If tenants leave this block, they don't get replaced. Windows get smashed, then boarded up, doors get kicked in, then boarded up, then kicked in again. Broken furniture sits on the street for days. The extent of the tagging leaves you numb. Those who remain say squatters have moved in to some of the unoccupied houses and looters have stripped them bare. Some of the tenants are scared at night.   

Lana Radcliffe has lived here coming up seven years and she's sandwiched between vacant lots. She's waiting for her ticket out. She doesn't own much in the way of furniture and what she has is old. She has a picture of Sylvester Stallone on one wall and a picture of the Mormon Temple on another, she has long hair, she has perfect diction, she has a toy cat in the window and a real one in the drive and that's about it for company.

''It's very lonely, very lonely indeed,'' she says. 

She wants out, but others want to stay. A guy with a red cap bikes past and stops.

''A lotta us don't wanna move, but we got no options,'' he says.

''I'm not real worried about the living standard, just that I got a roof over my head.''

And what of the living standards?

''It's old. Everything's, like, rottening.''

STRUGGLE STREET: ‘‘There’s been a lot of sadness here,’’ says Josephine Anderson. Photo: PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

These are ganglands. Tenants either tell you that straight, or allude to it. Josephine Anderson knew that when she moved here 13 years ago as a single mum with three kids. She didn't want them growing up around trouble and asked HNZ to locate her anywhere else. Now her kids have grown up, she lives here alone and her war wounds from the roughest days are the holes in the wall that she's covered with white paint. She's 53, she's gentle, she loves the kids in the neighbourhood and tries to help them, she has long hair and her house smells like boiling rice. An op shop would turn her furniture away, but the place is so clean you could eat off the floors. She has three pictures of horses on the wall that remind her of going to the rodeo with her dad when she was a kid. 

''There's been a lot of sadness here,'' she says.

''Life has been a bit of a struggle.''  She talks about one son getting caught up with a gang, his drug problem then mental health diagnosis, his best mate getting stabbed on one of these streets. ''All the damage you'll see round the house is pretty much his.''

The truth is she doesn't get many visitors these days. The son that punched holes in the wall is in jail and the rest of her family doesn't like the area. They duck outside every five minutes to check their cars and she notices that and feels shamed out. 

''To be honest, this is probably the ugliest house I've ever had.''

She's seen enough of this area and it's time to move on, she hopes, to a smaller place in a safe neighbourhood.

Along the Dey Street end of the Jebson block, a small fence divides it and the new state highway one. Thanks to the expressway, the old stateys start rattling with the trucks at 6am and keep at it all day.

LONG TIME RESIDENT: Mike Surch says the area has become more dangerous. Photo: PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

Old Man Mike lives on Dey Street in a house that's outlived its time.

''With the expressway, it's starting to shake and cracks are appearing on the ceiling, but I don't feel right bringing [HNZ] out here to repair something knowing in a few months it's going to be demolished.''

He's 67, he's lived here 11 years, he first arrived here with a bride more than 20 years his junior whose since left him, he collects scrap metal, he contorts his face comically when he's trying to make a point, he has his initials OMM (old man Mike) scratched into his toolboxes, he was born in Manchester and has the accent to show for it, his house, he admits, ''looks like a bloody tip.''

He wants to move to a unit with no stairs because his knee's starting to play up. He'll miss the area, ''except for the bad parts.'' It's not just lonely round here anymore, he says, it's dangerous, nearly all the boarded up houses have been broken into. 

Moleigh Patana is sick of having to call the cops. It's mostly young kids, she says, ''they drink, they drink, they fight.''

She's lived here nine years, but doesn't like telling people. She's trying to get off the benefit, but no ones hiring. ''Being in this area doesn't help at all.

''It seems like, Oh, you're from there . Oh no, we wouldn't wanna know about you.''

She says she's been trying to leave the area since she got here.

''When I took this place I said, ideally it's not where I wanna bring my kids up. No one listened or cared, so I just stayed. Everyone does the same around here, they drink from pay day.'' She's converted the carport to an outside lounge, where she's set up a workstation to make flax skirts for kapa haka kids. She hopes to make some money from it. She's 37, she started smoking at 15 when her dad died, she watched everyone else doing it and noticed it was the only time they weren't crying. She's a big woman, she has sad eyes, she says this neighbourhood has changed her kids.

''My boys went from doing well at school, loving life, to doing what the boys round here do - smoking synthetics. They used to say they hated being here, because all anyone does is party and fight.''

Her older boy is 17 now and has got his shit together.

''He reckons, I'll get us a place outta here, mum.'' 

Living in poverty: Sharon Karauna says living around Jebson Place has been the toughest time of her life. Photo: PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

This story ends on Dey Street, with a woman in a pink dressing gown who is standing out front with a smoke in her hand. Hers is the house with a sheet of tarpaulin covering the side of a smashed up car she can't afford to fix.

Sharon Karauna's 48, she's lived here three years, she has green eyes, she has long fingernails with chipped polish, she's missing a front tooth, she was proud and beautiful once, but she doesn't feel it now. She comes from just out of Gisborne, one of nine kids. She used to walk to school with bare feet and by the time she was 5, she found it hard to move because she had rheumatic fever. She pissed her pants on the way home from school one day because her feet were so swollen, she couldn't get to the toilet in time. She remembers long stays in hospital without visitors - her family moving around a lot, her dad out of work and fixing tractors for food, her siblings crammed into the bedrooms and her parents sleeping in the lounge.

She grew up and married and moved to Auckland.

She first came to live on Dey Street when her son rang her up and said, My girlfriend's pregnant, can you help? He's since moved on and she's still here. She's been sick since she was 5. She says she asked HNZ not to place her in a house with stairs because of her heart failure, but the case manager told her it would be good exercise. She cries. Housing New Zealand has no record of this. 

She smokes 15-20 cigarettes a day. Yes, she knows it's killing her, but in some ways, she already feels dead. She's always tried to stay off the benefit, but now she's too sick to work. ''If I was able to work I'd feel alive, you know?''

''I think going on [the benefit] has really torn down my woman's pride.'' She stops and cries.

''I know I can do things, I know I can, and accepting that sickness benefit to me is saying I can't do it, I'm no good, I'm just gonna start living off other people ... I've never done that.''

This is the toughest time in her life. ''I know that poverty starts from in here,'' she presses her long fingers into her chest.

''When it gets in here, it's hard to get it out. It's still in my mind at the moment, and not my heart. I've still got a lot more than other people.''

She wishes for a one-storey house with carpet and a job teaching people to sing and dance. Music plays in the background and when she goes to find something in her bedroom, you can hear her sing the radio's song and she sounds proud and beautiful.  

CONDEMNED: Jebson Place which is on Housing New Zealand’s hit list. Photo: PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

HOUSING NEW ZEALAND

According to the ministry of social development, there were 130 people from Hamilton City identified as priority A on the Housing New Zealand waitlist in June this year, and 112 people classified as priority B.

Housing New Zealand has a total of 3,007 properties in Hamilton City, and the occupancy rate is at 99 percent.

HNZ has 68,000 properties nationally and around 193,000 tenants. 

ON JEBSON PLACE

''We are still continuing with our plans for Jebson Place,'' says regional manager Darren Toy. ''We are currently organising preliminary reports which will inform the final design and resource consent process. Construction is unlikely to begin until next year - and we have been keeping tenants updated on a regular basis. Last month for example we sent letters explaining that we will need to carry out survey work. We always provide our tenants with a direct dial phone number they can call if they have questions. We'll continue to keep tenants updated as timeframes are established.''

aimie.cronin@fairfaxmedia.co.nz 

Follow Aimie Cronin on Twitter: @AimoCronin

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