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The house bus and caravan at Lake Domain Reserve where a Featherston mother lived with four of her children. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

No power, no running water, nowhere to go
Police working with ‘all parties’ to reach a suitable solution for displaced Featherston family of six

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A Featherston mother of five who has been living in a bus on the shores of Lake Wairarapa since January without power or running water is now desperate for accommodation as authorities ask her to move along.

The mother, who did not want to be named, had been renting a house in Featherston for two years until January 10.

The landlords had originally offered her a one-year lease but had extended it to two years, which the woman said she was grateful for.

However, since her landlords had moved back into their house this year, the woman had been unable to find any affordable accommodation and, as a last resort, had moved to the Lake Domain Reserve campsite in her converted bus.

Last weekend, another camper at the reserve informed her that police had visited her site.

She said that when she rang the police to find out what was going on, they told her that South Wairarapa District Council wanted to trespass her from the freedom campsite.

According to the council website, campers could stay for up to 21 days at several locations in the district, including Lake Domain Reserve.

Having been at the campsite since January 10, the Featherston woman had exceeded her maximum stay.

However, the woman said she did not live at the lake by choice and had only moved there as she was unable to find anywhere else to stay.

“I just can’t find a home – there’s nowhere for me and my family.”

Four of her five children – aged 1, 4, 6, and 11 – had lived with her at the lake.

Her 17-year-old was sleeping at friends’ houses.

On Thursday, the mother moved the bus off the reserve, having received an offer to stay on the front lawn of a one-bedroom house, where another homeless person was already living.

The woman said that this property owner had not wanted any payment, but said she wanted to give him something in return for the favour.

However, she was still stuck without a long-term solution to her housing struggle.

When her previous tenancy in Featherston had expired, the woman had tried to apply for other rentals, but said she either could not afford them, or the landlords had not wanted such a large family.

“Every house you apply for, they want a small family – and I’m not that,” she said.

“Nobody told me when I had these children that there would be nowhere to live one day.”

She said that when she had set up camp at Lake Wairarapa, there were other homeless people camping in the vicinity of her house bus, however they were not considered a problem as they were mainly living in tents and were couples rather than large families.

As well as the house bus, the woman had a caravan to accommodate all her children.

She had erected a small windbreaker fence to protect her one-year-old and thought that this was probably why she was being asked to move on, as it made her set-up look more permanent.

“The system wants us to be good parents, and do things to keep our children safe, and I can’t even do that – I create attention for myself.”

The woman suffered from complex regional pain syndrome, a nervous system disorder which she called “the suicide disease” as it was so hard to cope with, even in a good environment.

“Every message through my brain and spinal cord is wrong. I can just be walking, and it will tell me I’m a paraplegic, and just switch off my legs.”

The woman had been confined to a wheelchair for two years but had managed to come out of it to take care of her youngest son.

However, rushing between cooking stations at her makeshift camp, collecting water, and looking after her children took a toll on her body.

She said her kids were frustrated and lashed out at her for not being able to fix their situation.

“It’s just this hideous, horrible mess, and we all feel so stressed and lost.”

ACC compensated the woman $437 a week – 80 per cent of her earnings as the owner of a property maintenance business.

However, she said that this would not cover the cost of rent.

Houses she had looked at had cost up to $600 a week.

“I looked after 10 to 15 houses as homestays, and I can’t even find anywhere to live – isn’t that ridiculous? It’s so ironic.”

She had called Work and Income to try to arrange emergency accommodation for her family but said that no motel would have her once she mentioned Work and Income.

“I was on the phone all last night. I haven’t had a rest. I’m so exhausted.”

According to its website, Work and Income could cover the cost of emergency accommodation for the first seven nights if it were a client’s first time in emergency housing, or if it had been some time since the client needed emergency housing and there was a new reason for needing it.

After seven nights, clients would need to pay a contribution to the emergency housing costs – about 25 per cent of income after tax.

However, the onus was on the client to find a place to stay.

The woman said that this put immense pressure on her and her family, as many motels would only be able to provide accommodation for three days at a time – and some would not even accept people who were paying through Work and Income.

“Even if we get emergency housing for three days, you can’t sleep because you’ve got to find somewhere else to go,” the woman said.

“Why isn’t there a place – there is so much abandoned land, so many abandoned buildings. Why isn’t there somewhere for people to go?”

Community Sergeant Steve Cameron said that the police were working with the council on the matter.

“Police are working with all parties involved to reach a suitable solution.”

The council would not comment on the issue.

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