Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

'I know what it's like to struggle': Young mother whose daughter died tragically now cooking for families living in cars

A young mother whose 2-year-old daughter died a violent death four years ago is now organising a group of Aucklanders to feed local families who are living in cars.

Amy Lorigan's former partner Michael Martin was acquitted in 2014 of murdering Leilani Lotonu'u at their Manurewa home in 2012.

Ms Lorigan now lives in Papakura with a new partner, welder Isaac Smith, who is helping her to take soup and other hot food to a group of up to 20 homeless people sleeping in their cars at nearby Bruce Pulman Park because of Auckland's desperate shortage of affordable housing.

"I know what it's like to struggle," she said. "I've been on a benefit."

She has been with Mr Smith for two years now and feels happy at last, even though they live in a tiny two-bedroom unit with Miami, her daughter with Mr Martin, who is now 4.

Mr Smith works fulltime and Ms Lorigan works fluctuating hours catering for functions at a hotel.

Ms Lorigan, 23, and her parents, who live nearby, share care of Miami, who attends preschool four days a week.

"When I look at where I am now, my life is perfect."

She was inspired to feed homeless people after her father told her he had seen some sleeping in cars at the park.

"I was living with my mother-in-law and we were chucking out a lot of food. There was so much food going to waste," she said.

"I just said to her: why don't we give it to people who need it?"

She and her mother-in-law, Ella Smith, went to the park, gingerly knocked on car windows and asked people if they needed hot food. Then she set up a Facebook page, "Helping those in need in Papakura".

"So many people messaged me, it was amazing, there were about 150 people who ... were willing to help."

People have brought soup, meat patties, pizza, burgers and fruit.

Ms Lorigan is not sure how many people get the food because many stay out of sight until she leaves.

Most are adults but she has heard of one family with children.

"My partner took food to the family and he made some hot dogs for the kids," she said.

When the Herald visited the park this week, one family with three kids insisted they were not homeless and were "on our way home". A mother and two young adult sons in a van said they had sold a house and had not yet bought another one.

A 45-year-old separated father, a building cladder, said he had to leave his last flat and decided to sleep in his van until he got his tax return to pay the bond on another place.

- NZ Herald

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