Poverty rife by golden sands

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:58 23/07/2014
Tahunanui Community Centre
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

ACCEPTANCE: Monique Jackson with her daughter Oceana and Tahunanui Community Centre manager Judy Robinson. She appreciates the centre’s welcoming atmosphere.

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In the third of a series on struggling households, Stacey Knott looks at deceptive appearances in the beach suburb of Tahunanui.


For many people, particularly out-of-town visitors, Tahunanui is synonymous with summer fun at the beach.

But behind the sparkling sands is one of Nelson's most deprived areas. It rated 9 in the 2013 deprivation index (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the most deprived). That was up slightly on 8 in the 2006 index.

Median household income from the 2013 census shows Tahunanui at $40,300, compared to $71,700 on the neighbouring Tahuna hills.

The Tahunanui income figure, from 810 households, is the third lowest in Nelson after the statistically small Port Nelson (only 33 homes), and the nearby Nelson Airport area (342 homes).

Twenty per cent of households in Tahunanui are also living off an annual income of $20,000 or less.

The area has plenty of infill housing, as well as former motels turned into accommodation.

Tahunanui Community Centre manager Judy Robinson believes poor housing, and the prevalence of single parent families and elderly residents on fixed incomes puts the area high on the deprivation scale.

Transport and access to services also make it difficult, she says.

"Tahunanui is isolated in a lot of ways, especially for the elderly, with no supermarkets or shopping."

The 2013 census found that 11 per cent of Tahunanui's households did not have access to a car. Thirty-eight per cent of the area's households are single occupancy and single parent families make up 30 per cent of all families.

Robinson is working on ways to help, and is planning to expand the centre's premises to offer cooking classes to young mothers.

"Parents don't necessarily know how to prepare a meal any more; they don't know what is nutritious for a child or family."

She says those not exposed to living on the bottom rung would be shocked at the realities of life for some of Nelson's residents, despite how close they lived to each other.

She said only a road separates the Tahunanui area, ranked 9 on the deprivation index, from the wealthier Tahuna Hills, ranked 3.

However, she remains optimistic and says the best place to start to raise generations out of poverty, is at early childhood.

"If you work with that child and parent alongside, so you are going to create a better drive for life and what can be achieved."

One of the community centre visitors is Monique Jackson, a solo mother with four daughters aged 4 to 17.

She used to live in Tahunanui, but was forced to leave when her lease was up on her rental accommodation and she could not find a new place.

She now lives in Victory but remains in touch with the Tahunanui area as youngest daughter Oceana goes to early childhood classes at the centre and Sailor, 6 goes to Tahuna School next door.

Jackson says she likes the community bonds in Tahuna, particularly the acceptance by the centre and its families.

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" Everyone works together as a team which I hadn't seen before."

She has lived in Atawhai, where she felt she was judged for her tattoos.

"In Atawhai the parents would segregate themselves. I do get judged in a different way, but I haven't had any of that in this community."

Jackson is surprised at Tahunanui's deprivation rating but says there is deprivation scattered all through Nelson.

"I have a big family, I am on a benefit, I have got a car - just - and I struggle."

Jackson supports her four girls on about $730 a week - $380 of that goes to rent. She is left with $350 to cover power, water, food, school cost, fuel for the car and clothing for the girls.

"Every penny is accounted for and that's where it's hard because I can't give the kids pocket money as such for the chores. They have to do them out of the goodness of their hearts. There's no way I can afford to give it to them and that sucks."

Jackson says she works hard to inspire her kids to remain positive, that money isn't everything.

She cooks at home, and does free activities with her children, like walks along the beach.

She says the schools her girls attend are very supportive and have helped out with uniforms and school trips when Jackson couldn't afford to provide them.

"I explained to my kids we don't have enough money to keep up with their rich friends. It's not the friends who are rich it's the parents, and not all of them have worked for it, some have had it handed down to them so I'm not competing with that."

From her own experiences, she also wants to help others, donating clothes to those in need.

"I'm no better off than anyone else and I don't think anyone is better than what I am. To me money doesn't make you who you are."

When it comes to jobs, she sees things are getting harder. She has been off and on benefits for the past few years, and says she wants to find work, but the climate is tough.

"It's not what you know or who you know, it's that there are not the jobs out there or if there are, you need the qualifications."

Nelson GP spokesman Dr Graham Loveridge says the health effects on living on a low-income, in areas like Tahunanui, are wide-reaching.

For example, poor nutrition was linked to poverty.

"There are low cost foods out there like two-minute noodles and fast food which are relatively cheap, but then you end up with a diet lacking in vitamins and minerals, and fresh fruit and vegetables."

He agrees that the lack of a supermarket and the numerous fast food outlets in Tahunanui were an issue, but says the bigger problem is having enough money to budget for nutritious food.

That saw a reliance on cheap, filling foods. "Folks on poor diets with lots of fatty food and carbs are more likely to get obese. Obese children then become obese adults with the risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you look across the nation, that is all economically linked. The obesity rates are higher in low income people."

He sees the responsibility for feeding children and communities, and educating them on nutrition, falling more on schools and community groups. He says teachers and schools were taking on the responsibility to encourage healthy eating and exercise, and should be funded to do so.

Likewise, free food programmes, like schools providing breakfast was a humane thing to do.

He agrees with Robinson that if you can get someone on track when they are young, they are going to have more success when they are older. "A healthy child is far more likely to grow into a healthy adult."

He wants a greater emphasis on children eating fruit and vegetables, and being exposed to preparing food, rather than unwrapping it.

Teaching people to cook, and normalising it, like Robinson plans to do, will go a long way, he says.

But, from a medical standing, Loveridge can't help but feel pessimistic

."There are rising obesity rates in New Zealand across the whole society, but particularly in the lower income groups. It is getting worse. There's going to be a huge burden of disease we will have to deal with in decades."

BY THE NUMBERS

Percentage of one-parent families:

Tahunanui 28 per cent

Tahuna Hills 11 per cent

Enner Glynn 15 per cent

Isel Park 21 per cent

Bronte 19 per cent

Toi Toi 29 per cent

Clifton 6 per cent

Source: 2013 Census

- The Nelson Mail

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