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Tent living is the only option left

A Featherston woman has lost custody of her four children and is living rough in a tent just outside Featherston because she cannot find a home.

When Dyannah Johns became homeless two years ago, she was forced to give up her children because she couldn’t house them. She has two sons, aged 15 and eight, and two daughters, aged 12 and nine. Her youngest son has a chronic health condition.

She has lived in Featherston for 16 years.

After 18 months of couch-surfing, she and her partner have been in the tent for most of the past six months.

The damp, cramped, leaking tent on the outskirts of town is now their home. They cook over an open gas stove and use whatever public ablution facilities they can find.

Johns described the conditions.

“It’s a six-person tent, so at least I can stand up because I’m tall,” she said.

“I have arthritis, so having to crouch over all the time isn’t good. We borrowed a gas cooker from somebody in Featherston, and we have a chilly bin. We buy food every couple of days.

“We have a shower bag that heats up in the sun. You just hang it up in a tree and shower outdoors. It sucks, big time,” she said.

The pair were in their leaking tent when the remnants of Cyclone Hale struck a few weeks back.

“We were kept awake all night using buckets and towels and things to try and keep ourselves dry. We sprung about four leaks. They are only made to be temporary structures. We also got a couple of rips from the wind. We were up at 6 am on one of the mornings moving the tent because we just got swamped.”

After applying unsuccessfully for up to 50 houses in Wellington, where her children are currently living, she moved with her partner back to Featherston and has since been living an itinerant life while they try to find a more permanent solution. Johns said prospective landlords seem to prefer tenants without children.

Homes for rent in Wairarapa are scarce, and those available are out of her price range.

“I’ve stopped applying for houses, really, because I’m just sick of being told ‘no’,” she said.

The strain of being homeless and living without her children has taken a toll on her health. She hasn’t seen her children since before Christmas and is worried about her unwell son.

“It’s doing my head in,” she said.

“My kids were with me every day for 14 years, then all of a sudden, they were gone. I lost myself a little bit there, I didn’t know how to cope. It was a downward spiral. I’ve already missed two years of my children’s lives.”

Johns’ youngest son has bronchiectasis, a progressive lung condition.

“I’m missing very important time with him,” she said

She posted on Facebook a few days ago about the situation, and the pair were offered a temporary place, but that ends next week, and they expect to return to the tent.

Melissa Sadler-Futter, deputy mayor of South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] and a member of the Featherston Community Board [FCB], said the council empathises with the difficulties Johns and others in similar situations faced finding affordable housing.

She said SWDC’s only social housing is a number of pensioners units for over 65-year-olds that are not designed for a family.

“We have two council-owned houses, but both are currently leased and are not available for social housing.

“We encourage Dyannah to continue pursuing her path with MSD and hope that this situation resolves quickly for her and her family.”

John Dennison, FCB deputy chair, said Johns would not be alone in finding it difficult to rent in Featherston.

“I have heard that applicants [for community housing] are not encouraged to identify Featherston because of our abysmal lack of social housing, and so the need is not identified. I would encourage anyone in housing need with an association with our town to identify Featherston as a choice for housing.”

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