Annemarie is the magazines editor and regular columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Tauranga woman works fulltime but sleeps in car

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It would be easy to think of homeless people being men sleeping rough on the street. But in Tauranga there is a class of people who refer to themselves as the 'upper-class homeless', people who live in cars, including families, couples, women and children. Over the next week, the Bay of Plenty Times will tell their stories. Today, Annemarie Quill talks to one woman who has a fulltime job but who is living in her car.
Christine works long hours and late shifts, and often at weekends, and sleeps in her car. Photo/John Borren
Christine works long hours and late shifts, and often at weekends, and sleeps in her car. Photo/John Borren

Christine is getting ready for work.

The 49-year-old is warming her hands around a mug of coffee, still dressed in what she describes as her pyjamas - black tracksuit bottoms, a black bomber jacket and white trainers.

Her long hair is tucked under a woollen beanie. Her fingernails are immaculately painted - bright fuschia. Her face is warm and open. Friendly and confident. She is just about to get changed into her work clothes.

Being a woman on my own it is different as when people think of homeless people, people think of men.
Christine

Christine has a fulltime job in a local call centre. She works long shifts, often till 8pm. Saturdays too. She takes on extra shifts. She is saving up for a house.

Christine has been living in her car for three months.

On the day the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend speaks to her, she is parked at Memorial Park, next to a car containing Steve and Mary, with whom she has made friends. She speaks on the condition of anonymity.

Read more: Tauranga's homeless: 4-year-old lived in car for six weeks
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"Being a woman on my own it is different as when people think of homeless people, people think of men."

She locks the car doors at night. She is not scared because she knows there are other people also sleeping in cars, as well as tourists and freedom campers.

"It is no different to a little village," she says.

As for washing, eating and sleeping, she simply has to find solutions. Christine has to walk some distance to the toilets. She is not going to reveal where she has a hot shower in case other people start using it too and then she won't be able to.

I ask her how she has a coffee in the morning.

"Milk and two sugars," she says, joking. In fact, she gets hot water from McDonald's. Or just waits until she gets to work. She has a strict routine. She plans meals ahead and eats hot food at work where she can use the microwave and kettle. She buys ready meals and keeps them in the fridge at work.

"I try to look after myself and my health. It is getting cold in the night but it is manageable."

Read more: Numbers of homeless in Tauranga unacceptable, says health boss

Christine describes herself as "working homeless". She is living in her car because she says it is the only way she can pay off $8000 in debt which she accumulated while paying $600 a week in rent when she was living in Auckland. Her family hails from the Bay of Plenty, and her goal is to pay off her debt.

"Then I want to get a loan and actually build somewhere to live on a bit of land."

She said she would never be able to afford to pay off her debt and save money to buy somewhere if she also had to pay rent.

"The rents are so high, and that is if you can even find anywhere. As it is, yes I live in my car, but it is central. I can work."

Her boss and some work colleagues know she sleeps in a car, but mostly she keeps it to herself. "Because I am on my own, I can do it. I couldn't imagine living in a car with children, or with other people ... there are homeless families. I have seen a child in a car."

Christine has two older children at university. "They are doing well. Their father died a few years ago."

But they have their mother, who works six days a week to save every cent - and who goes back to her car to sleep in the park.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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