Merivale's Jan Tinetti sees first hand the consequences of upheaval and homelessness on Tauranga's children.

"The eyes start to deaden in the kids that are the highly transient children. They struggle to make friends and they won't make friends because they know they'll be leaving again really, really quickly."

At decile-one Merivale, 10 per cent of children are now homeless or living in temporary accommodation, and Ms Tinetti says even she was shocked when local support service Te Tuinga Whanau revealed it had 140 people within walking distance of the school who were classed as homeless on its books.

"We are truly reaching crisis point. There has always been housing issues and they've been able to be managed as individual cases, but the issue that we have at the moment is that there are more and more and more."


The school first became aware of families sleeping in cars last year and the situation started to escalate six months ago.

"I probably get one family, one whanau a week that come in and tell me that they're having to get out of their house. Somebody said to me, 'Oh, that might be a bit light' and I've thought about it - even this week, I've had three."

Often the first point of call for families forced out of their homes is other family, but living together in crowded conditions can be problematic and many are forced to shift again. Many moves require children to switch schools.

"This year, I've had probably 15 children here from three to eight weeks. They don't have that stability in their learning. There's no being able to build on what they've learned and what they've done in class ... we just don't get that progress with them."

I probably get one family, one whanau a week that come in and tell me that they're having to get out of their house ... even this week, I've had three.

Worse though, in Ms Tinetti's mind, is the effect on the mental health of some children.

"We see children here whose behaviour just is really tough because they don't know how to make friends, so the way they'll come in to try and make their place in that group is to be naughty, basically, and do want they can. It's just trying to get attention."

She says efforts are made not to place further stress on such children but teachers feel powerless in the face of those who are severely disturbed.

"We're teachers and we're not the mental health experts or the psychologists ... Now those services have all been run down."


Merivale School has 150 children and a full-time special needs education co-ordinator, but Ms Tinetti says transient children also find it difficult to build rapport with adults.

"They don't want to let anybody else in so they'll really struggle. It's really heartbreaking stuff."