Good Samaritan mum and son who help homeless face sleeping on the street
A disabled, soon to be homeless Napier woman says she will be forced to sell or dump precious personal possessions because Work and Income won't fund the full cost of moving her out of her home.
Breast cancer, a double mastectomy, life-threatening post-surgical infections, breast reconstruction, persistent "chemo brain" that affects her ability to learn: Tania Thomson has risen above all that life has thrown at her in recent years.
In all, Thomson has endured 14 operations. She still needs two knee replacements, due to severe arthritis. In the meantime, she remains on a Work and Income supported living benefit.
Now 49-year-old Thomson and her 13-year-old son Jack have fallen victim to New Zealand's a buoyant real estate market and growing housing crisis; their house is to be renovated and sold.
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The fear of homelessness eclipses everything Thomson has gone through. Napier's critical housing shortage means that, after 10 years in the same rented home, she and Jack are destined for motel living and there's not enough money to move all of their possessions into storage.
She said the pain of knowing that, for the foreseeable future, she can't provide Jack with a safe, stable environment is more emotionally crippling than the day she told her oncologist to remove not just her diseased right breast, but both.
"The cancer was really aggressive and had begun to invade my chest wall and lymph nodes, so I told him 'if you take one, you take them both'," she said bluntly.
Unable to lift heavy items, squat or kneel and with no one other than Jack to help, Thomson was forced to spend more than half of a recoverable Work and Income household removal grant on packers.
But the grant covered only transporting her home's contents, not packing. Thomson's case manager applied for additional, discretionary funding on the basis of Thomson's disability, but the branch manager declined it. It's a decision that has her beaten.
Thomson is on a long Housing NZ waiting list. If she was moving into a house, her removal costs would be non-recoverable and paid in full.
But that with no houses available and only a motel to move into, Work and Income policy means she's faced with a shortfall and a $1,750 debt to repay.
On Saturday, a removal company put Thomson's and Jack's possessions into storage. But not everything went on the truck – Thomson couldn't afford it. What's left will have to be sold or disposed of.
Napier MP Stuart Nash believes disabled people should be given special consideration.
"Work and Income should be judging each and every case on its merits because there are circumstances where the 'one rule for all' simply doesn't fit and, therefore, people like Tania end up significantly disadvantaged," he says.
He believes Work and Income should work on a case-by-case basis, based on two quotes from reputable companies.
"But life for those people is already a challenge without being forced to comply with a model developed for able-bodied people..."
On Friday nights, Thomson and Jack – who sleeps little these days due to worry and uncertainty - set aside their problems to do the "bread run", distributing bread, warm clothing and blankets to the city's homeless. She says it's her way of making the world a better place.
The irony of the pair's situation is not lost on Nash, who recently hit the streets with Thomson to see Napier's homeless problem for himself.
"Tania does a fantastic job of helping people who find themselves in difficult situations. This community spirit of giving selflessly and helping voluntarily is what makes New Zealand a great place.
"It is such a shame that Tania, now in need herself, is apparently being let down by the system."
Work and Income have been approached for comment.
- Sunday Star Times