16 Jun 2017

'I can't get a place': Northland woman turns to life in a leaky bus

6:09 am on 16 June 2017

Living in a leaky bus would be most people's idea of housing hell - especially if you'd just had major surgery.

But a Northland woman who had a hip replacement six weeks ago says she's just grateful to have somewhere to live.

Maureen is living in a bud, having had a hip replacement just two weeks ago.

Maureen is living in a bus in a friend's backyard in Whangarei, having had a hip replacement just two weeks ago. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Maureen, who asked RNZ not to use her surname, is paying $50 a week to rent an old bus, parked up in the backyard of a friend's house.

The 61-year-old pays another $50 to use the bathroom and kitchen in the house, but stays in the bus most of the time, to give her friends some privacy.

"I would never have dreamt that this is where I'd be in my life at this age," she said.

"But it is the way it is, and I don't know what to do because I can't get a place."

Maureen's story is an increasingly common one of people moving to Northland, hoping in vain to find an affordable home.

She worked as a truck driver in Auckland until the company closed and she was made redundant.

With no job, and her hip starting to give out, she headed north to Whangarei, where she grew up, thinking she would be able to find a place she could afford on a benefit.

"I got a shock to see how high the rents were," she said.

"There's some nice units around but they're $300 a week. That's more than I get on my benefit. "

Maureen stayed with friends and family for a time, but increasingly desperate to be independent she found the bus - and a friend who let her park it.

A fortnight after her surgery, she is still in pain and moving with difficulty. She can't sit and has to either stand or lie down.

Climbing down the steps of the bus, and trekking back and forth to the house is a mission.

Even getting into bed is agonising: beds are supposed to be high for a hip surgery patient, but the one in the bus is low.

She piles on the duvets at night and wears scarves and balaclavas. The winterless north can be surprisingly bleak in June, and the thin walls of the bus run with condensation as she sleeps.

She has a small fan heater - but won't use it because she doesn't want to put her friend's power bill up.

But she's not complaining. Her goal is to get well, get another driving job and find a one-bedroom flat.

"I'm grateful... I'm blessed to have the bus," she said. "There's lots of people worse off than me."

Maureen's GP, Kyle Eggleton, is less philosophical.

Too many of his patients were living in cars, tents and other accommodation that was damaging their health, he said.

And Maureen's situation troubled him.

Patients recovering from hip surgery needed to be moving around to restore their mobility, not confined to a bus, Dr Eggleton said.

"It's going to be difficult for her to recover living in a cramped environment with a low bed that's difficult to get in and out of.

"And because of the cold and damp she is more at risk of respiratory conditions and pneumonia."

Dr Eggleton said he had a number of patients living 12 or 15 to a house because of housing scarcity and high rents in Whangarei.

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