Lianne Dalziel: Nellie Hunt 'a wake-up call'

OLIVIA CARVILLE AND LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 15:11 10/12/2013
Lianne Dalziel
Daniel Tobin
WAKE-UP CALL: Mayor Lianne Dalziel is calling for more affordable housing solutions after meeting Nellie Hunt, the mother-of-three who has moved her family into a tent after being evicted from a rental home.

Homeless

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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Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel says it is totally unacceptable that people in the city are being forced to resort to living in tents.

"It is intolerable that anyone should be homeless in our city,'' Dalziel said after meeting with Nellie Hunt, the woman who had to move her family into a tent after failing find anywhere affordable to rent..

"What worries me is that Nellie is not alone .... She has highlighted a bigger picture and we have to bring all our minds to bear on what are the best ways to resolve these problems,'' Dalziel said.

"We need readily available affordable housing solutions that enable people to settle, join in their local community, and get on with their lives.''

The mayor's comments come as it emerges the Christchurch City Council has offered the family a four-bedroom home in Gloucester St for $260 a week rent.

Councillor Glenn Livingstone said the home was a ''rare find'' and the council "can't do this for everyone".

''What it does do is highlight is the desperate situation we're in.''

The Press has not yet reached Nellie Hunt to hear if she has accepted the offer.

Dalziel said the council, central government and social housing agencies needed to combine their resources, do a housing stock-take and focus on coming up with some solutions.

"It's a huge priority and Nellie has been the wake-up call that we all needed. There are a few lines in the sand that I would like to draw in this term of the council and one is that no-one will be homeless.''

Dalziel said she expected the council would have to take the lead on the issue but hoped that central government would also become involved.

"Part of the problem is that although temporary solutions can often be found, people don't choose those because they realise they will get stuck and they will lose their priority. We have to find our way around that because that is a systems failure.''

HUNT FAMILY'S HOME IS A TENT 

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.

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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.

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.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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