Hunt family fights on in Waltham Park

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2013
Iain McGregor

Nellie Hunt speaks about sleeping in a park with her 3 children.

Nellie Hunt
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
HOLDING ON: As dusk falls on their first night in Waltham Park, Nellie Hunt given her 9-year-old son Manawaa a hug in the tent they are sharing with her two other children.

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Nellie Hunt and her children spent last night sleeping in a tent in a public park, while another 39 Cantabrians are living in similar or worse conditions.

Hunt is deemed priority A on the Housing New Zealand (HNZ) waiting list, but The Press understands 39 other people stand before her in the queue for social housing.

Her plight was revealed in The Press yesterday and offers of help have flooded in.

The 35-year-old and her three children, aged 16, 11 and 9, were evicted from their rental property and shifted into the tent in Waltham Park yesterday.

Three social agencies could not find the family a home after they were served a 90-day eviction notice in September. The best option they could come up with was to move the family into a tent in a nearby park that would be guarded by Maori wardens.

Some people now want to anonymously donate money, some have offered to put the family up in their spare bedroom or garages and one elderly couple said they would sleep on the couch to give the children a bed.

Hunt's story struck a chord, but she is not alone.

Four hundred people are on the HNZ waiting list in Canterbury and 148 are listed as priority A.

Priority A means they are "at risk" with a severe housing need that must be addressed immediately. They may be living in cars, tents or garages.

The Press understands Hunt sits at number 40 on the list.

While her two-bedroom tent was being pitched yesterday, people facing similar housing woes wandered into the park to share their stories.

One man said he was on the brink of homelessness with his wife and 86-year-old mother.

"He said he might pitch a tent alongside ours. We may have neighbours already," Hunt said.

Another elderly woman's daughter was squatting in an abandoned house with her boyfriend.

Yesterday's public response made Hunt feel "blessed to live in New Zealand" and hearing other people's horror stories gave her strength.

"It's not all bad and the kids are taking it better than I thought," she said.

The family of four plan to sleep together on mattresses in the tent.

Her children will go to school and shower at their former neighbour's house at night, Hunt said.

"I am shocked it has come to this, but I am a bit calmer now and I want to see this through. I want to find the right home for my kids. Having my children with me and standing beside me makes me feel a lot stronger."

Hunt turned down offers to move into other people's homes because she was afraid it would forfeit her "urgent" position in the HNZ queue and one of the only chances she has of getting her children a suitable home.

"I feel really stink turning down people's genuine offers of help, but I need to wait it out until I get an offer for a suitable home. I don't want us to be a burden on anyone else," she said.

HNZ tenancy services South Island manager Symon Leggett said over the next decade it planned to spend more than $1 billion into Canterbury's withered social housing stock.

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More than 95 per cent of HNZ homes were damaged in the earthquakes, with 5000 needing repairs, he said.

"We are very aware of the personal circumstances of people on our waiting list and we try our hardest to accommodate them. We are in constant contact with other social housing providers in the city to make sure everything that is available is being utilised," Leggett said.

Hagley-Ferrymead community board member Brenda Lowe-Johnson, who has been advocating for Hunt, said: "There's lots of Nellies out there. This is just the beginning."

Hunt works full time at a nearby bakery and her children attend school in the Waltham area.

On an average week she will receive about $760, which includes her wages and Working For Families and accommodation supplement entitlements.

Hunt is hoping to find a three or four-bedroom home in Waltham or surrounding suburbs, and said she could pay a maximum of $400 rent per week. She admitted she had made mistakes in her past, including being addicted to alcohol in the early 2000s, but said she had since been "trying to do everything right" for her family.

- The Press

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