Comment: Family's lives rescued from chaos

People in crisis need help, not judgment made in ignorance, writes the mother of a family once homeless.
Circumstances sometimes see families facing difficulties. File photo / Richard Robinson
Circumstances sometimes see families facing difficulties. File photo / Richard Robinson

I'd like to share my family's story of when we were homeless. I have read some of the awful and judgmental comments from those who ignorantly assume homelessness is a matter of mismanagement or useless parenting.

Heaven forbid that there may be circumstances outside "the norm" which would cause these families to live in cars with their children and babies during winter.

I would also like to offer our story as one of hope to those families at the marae or living in cars and vans. They are not forgotten. Behind the scenes every day there are people quietly working and fighting on their behalf.

There was a time when everything was going great in our household. My partner was working, I was home with my babies (15 months and nearly 3) and our eldest boy was healthy.

In 2013, everything changed. Our eldest was diagnosed with a heart condition which made him very ill and he required emergency bypass surgery. For most of 2013, we lived at Starship.

That year I also found out I was pregnant with our fourth son and our lease would end. Between Starship, my partner working, caring for our toddlers and the birth of our baby, it left very little time to find another house.

The houses we managed to visit had so many other people interested and landlords and agents preferred families who didn't have toddlers. I know this because I was told by two different agents.

Needless to say, we had nowhere to go. Even the agencies who are there to help the homeless wouldn't help us. They couldn't or wouldn't take a family like mine.

Interestingly enough, had I been a drunk, druggie, a gambling addict who was beaten by my partner and had Child Youth and Family been involved, I would have been able to go to a refuge or shelter for mothers and kids. Because none of that applied to us, no one would help.

No one except for Danielle Bergin of Island Child Charitable Trust. My family would have been like those families living in cars if Danielle hadn't taken us in. We were in that shelter for the homeless for about 12 weeks, and during that time Danielle worked tirelessly to ensure we would be in a house.

And we are. It is a lovely state house.

We were homeless because we had a whole lot more going on at the time.

That was our story, in brief. We were homeless because we had a whole lot more going on at the time, it left us with a short amount of time to find a house for ourselves. Danielle understood that we just needed help, and so she helped us.

We're not that different from the homeless families living in cars - we weren't beneficiaries (my partner was working full-time) when we had our children, we weren't homeless when we had our children and we didn't get evicted - our landlord moved his family into the house when he ended our tenancy.

He gave us the notice required by law, but having a child with an unpredictable heart condition which could have taken his life, being pregnant, having two toddlers and still having to do the day-to-day stuff, all resulted in us being homeless.

Today, I share my story in defence of the many homeless families. Please don't judge until you've been where they are.

And to you families in cars, it is so easy to think that the hard times will never end. Please trust me: things will get better and there are wonderful people who care and are fighting for you everyday.

- NZ Herald

The writer has supplied her name to the Herald but asked that it not be published.

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