A Northland woman is living in a garage with three children aged between one and five because she can't find a house to rent.

Aroha (not her real name) had been living in Auckland, where her kids were settled at school and kohanga reo, until her rented home was sold and she was given 90 days' notice.

She started looking for another home, applying for more than 50 in South Auckland and Whangaparaoa.

However, the solo mum never got as far as a shortlist or a viewing, and only once did anyone check her reference from her last landlord.

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Sometimes a viewing would be cancelled as soon as she gave her name. She wondered if that was because her name was Māori.

''That's how it felt anyway,'' she said.

By the June 2 deadline she still hadn't found anywhere. Her parents had also been given 90 days' notice so she moved to Kaikohe where relatives cleared out their garage.

A double mattress shared with the kids takes up almost all the space not occupied by stored belongings, and the mould and damp triggers her eczema and asthma.

However, she counts herself lucky because she can use her relatives' kitchen and bathroom.

''It's not ideal but I'm just grateful we've got somewhere. I do have my moments when I just break down and cry, and I feel like a burden on my family because they have lots of kids too.''

Since moving north she has continued her search for a rental, first targeting Kerikeri and Waipapa, where she figured she would have more opportunities for work, and now Whangārei.

In Whangārei she believed she had a better chance of getting on to a course — she had been taking a sewing course when she became pregnant with her youngest child — and she could live more cheaply due to lower food costs.

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While the kids enjoyed being with family and felt like they were camping, Aroha worried about her one-year-old who also suffered from eczema.

She was looking for a house that was warm and dry with a fenced section so the kids could play freely outside.

''People expect me to look for a cold damp house, but that would kick us in the butt eventually for health reasons.''

Cost wasn't even a major barrier because Work and Income would help pay the rent. The problem was that, as a solo mum, she didn't even get a look in.

''They look at us and see three kids. They're looking for a family with two adults, a professional couple, or someone with older kids. But that leaves us in a garage.''

Housing advocate Carol Peters, of 155 Community House in Whangārei, said homelessness was a huge problem in the North.

''It's not just rough sleepers. We've got families living in cars, people living in garages or overcrowded situations,'' she said.

''The problem is not confined to Northland but Northland is doing badly at the moment. Rents are going up and people can't keep up."

"When I ask people why they're living in a car they tell me it got to the point where they didn't have money for food. These are the kind of terrible choices people have to make.''

Peters said homelessness also came at a high cost to the rest of society, for example through pressure on the health system.

''When people live in a garage the likelihood of them, and their kids, getting ill rises exponentially. So it's bad economics to not address the problem.''

■ Email peter.degraaf@nzme.co.nz or leave a message on (09) 407 3287 if you can help Aroha find a home.