Toddlers sick in damp, mouldy home
A 22-month-old toddler living in a cold and damp Christchurch state house had to be taken to hospital three times in one year for bronchiolitis.
Samoan mother Loreta, 27, who did not want her surname used, sat in a musty, dark bedroom juggling her twin daughters and 5-month-old son as she spoke of her fears for her children's health this winter.
One of the twins, Shammah, who has had a history of respiratory illnesses, clung to her mother's side, crying.
Loreta, her husband and their three young children moved into the Housing New Zealand (HNZ) home in Hoon Hay in June 2011.
After two months living in the house her twin daughters, Shammah and Shaddai, were admitted to Christchurch Hospital for bronchiolitis at 10 weeks old.
Shaddai was kept overnight but Shammah spent three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit and wound up back in hospital twice more for the same illness that year.
The three-bedroom house has one heat pump, and Loreta said the carpets were damp and mouldy when they moved in.
She scavenged pieces of carpet from a nearby firm's scrap heap before she allowed her children to crawl on the floor, but Loreta believes the "smelly, old carpet and cold house" landed her children in hospital.
Shammah has had health problems ever since and her infections often spread to her twin sister and brother Tsidkenu.
The family of five sleep in the same room for warmth and because Loreta feels it is not safe for her children to sleep on their own.
Last winter, the children came down with the flu together about five times, and Loreta's husband, who works fulltime cleaning crates, had to take time off to help her care for the children.
"When they all get sick together it can be a real handful. It's a lot of work and a lot of pressure and I don't get much sleep," Loreta said.
The family received Working for Families payments, but by the time rent, bills and loan repayments were deducted, Loreta said, they often struggled to afford food, let alone medication.
If the children needed new winter clothes or medication they would have to borrow the money from the community, she said.
HNZ said Loreta's house was fitted with insulation in 2010 and that it had received no complaints about the property.
"We are always concerned when we hear about potential health and safety issues, and a member of our tenancy services team will visit the tenant," a spokeswoman said.