23 Mar 2018

Family facing homelessness ask 'what's happened to NZ?'

From Checkpoint, 5:25 pm on 23 March 2018

A legally blind Wairarapa man in a wheelchair and his family have until the 1st of April to find a home, but so far nothing has met their needs.

Del and Sam Bennett - along with their 24-year-old son - were given 90 days from their landlord and have been on the social housing register since the end of January. 

Ms Bennett said so far they've had no luck in the search for a new home. 

"Its very frustrating, the few [viewings] that are there, some of them are 10 minutes, I call them cattle calls, you can have 20 families all fighting to get in to view one home, " she said. 

On top of the tough housing market they've had an even tougher job of finding a house on their limited beneficiary income, she said. 

"Because Sam's in a chair we need something that has wider doorways and something we can make accessible, we have a portable ramp that we can get up a couple of steps and we can work around most things. 

"One of the houses, the only way we could get him in was he'd have to live in the garage, it did have a toilet and shower in the garage, but cups of tea and food would have to be delivered down the stairs," she said.

The couple have had to give up two of their dogs to increase the chance of finding a rental, but they're hoping to keep their long-haired chihuahua Bentley.

"He has a bent spine and so he gets excited and runs in circles, which is perfect for someone who can't run after their dog. These two are inseparable and spends 90 percent of the time sitting on dad's knee," Mrs Bennett said. 

Mr Bennett said Bentley was his sanity. 

Although their story is tough, its just one of many, said Mr Bennett.

The couple have been working with the Ministry of Social Development and local community housing organisation, Trust House.

Trust chief executive Allan Pollard said they had never seen demand like it and there were just not enough houses. 

"Four or five year ago our occupancy at Trust House was around 93 percent, and today it's in excess of 99 percent.

"We only have two vacancies and both of those houses we have two people waiting to tenant the properties and we have another 50 families waiting," he said.

Mr Pollard said they had the plans to build new houses, but they needed the capital from the government to make it happen. 

The couple were offered a potential house with Trust House, but it didn't end up being suitable for their needs. 

The couple have another viewing on the 28th, but it was likely it will need modifications, which could take three months. 

Ms Bennett had booked in a cabin in Greytown for herself and their son, in fear of having nowhere to go over the Easter break, but Mr Bennet would have to go into a resthome. 

The Ministry's Regional Commissioner, Katie Brosnahan ,said across New Zealand, they know more housing is needed to support the most vulnerable people in the community. 

"The ministry is putting a huge amount of effort into making more public housing available," she said. 

The Ministry will meet with the family on 3 April to discuss emergency housing options. 

"The service centre manager is in regular contact with Mrs Bennett and we are offering her any and all support we can," she said.