There is an urgent need for emergency housing in Northland for teenage mums with nowhere to go. Reporter Jenny Ling talks to those at the coalface and discovers how dire the situation really is.
Jewel Heta is a young single mum living in a cold, damp, mouldy one-bedroom flat with her baby daughter in Northland.
The 23-year-old pays $205 a week for the unit in Moerewa which is around 20sqm and until recently had a broken septic tank causing the drains to overflow.
Winters are particularly bad, she said.
"The walls are brick so they just drip."
Heta desperately wants to improve her living conditions for herself and one-year-old Gypsy-Rae.
But she knows that with the lack of rental accommodation in the region and her lack of money her chances of finding somewhere are scarce.
She can't live with family – there are already six people living in a three-bedroom house, and it's in a rural area which makes life harder when you don't have a car.
But Heta is still grateful to have a roof over her head.
She's one of the lucky ones; teenage single mums are living in cars, overcrowded homes, garages and even farm sheds.
"I want to move but I can't," she said.
"There's no houses in the area.
"I don't even know if I can afford $300.
"I feel grateful because I have a roof over my head but I feel sorry for everyone else who have to live with their families in overcrowded houses."
Heta is currently enrolled with Hiwa-i-te rangi Northland College Teen Parent Unit in Kaikohe so she can continue her studies and get support from other teen mums in similar situations.
Solomon Group – a Māori private training establishment - also helps deliver training, education and employment for Northland youth.
Chief executive Lynette Donohoe said there is a "huge need" for housing in the region, particularly for teenage mums.
"Young people aged 16-18 are not allowed to be placed into emergency accommodation, they're not old enough.
"There is no other emergency accommodation in the North, so unless they can reach out to family there's no answer, and quite often these young people are disengaged from family and it's not a safe place to be for them.
"Some are living in cars, cow sheds, or a house with 16 other people. Sometimes they'll be in one bedroom in a house and being charged unfair rent.
"It's worse than just garages, it's the shack out in the paddock where they use cardboard paper as the lining, and there's no hot and cold running water.
"Some of them have nothing."
Donohoe said Solomon case managers provide the young mums, who are mostly on benefits, with financial support, budgeting, mentoring and parenting advice to support them through their education and find employment.
There is a wider housing issue in Northland, she said, but it's vital for these young mothers to get good, stable accommodation as poor housing is putting their health and wellbeing at risk.
Donohoe said there needs to be more government funding for emergency housing.
"They're doing a great job staying in school but housing is a barrier to them moving on or progressing.
"Even when there is emergency housing, it could be way outside the area. This disrupts their routines and it disadvantages them even more.
"If you're at school and you're living in a car or a cow shed how can you learn?
"There needs to be a housing solution provided and I think it needs to be quick.
"There's lots of talk about social housing, but there doesn't seem to be anything happening now."
Jessica Taylor finished her schooling at the Hiwa-i-te rangi Teen Parent Unit when she was a 17-year-old first time mum and now volunteers there.
Often teenage mothers have no family support due to relationship breakdowns, poverty, addictions, or overcrowding at home, she said.
Finding rental accommodation is near impossible, she said.
"The thing is with these girls and their ages, they're not even considered half the time for rentals," she said.
"With no stability or stable income, they are overlooked.
"Everything is against them from the start."
Teen Parent Unit manager Eleanor Barker said the housing situation in Kaikohe is the worst it has ever been.
"When we have taken students to support them to the real estate agents we have been confronted with a stack of 20 to 30 applications for a single property. Our young parents are at a considerable disadvantage.
"There is only one place in a suitable location for our young parents and that is the Mid North Motor Inn in Kaikohe. These units come with no kitchenette, so our students are unable to prepare healthy kai for themselves and their baby."
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made 544 grants supporting 193 Northland households needing emergency housing in the quarter ending June 30.
The total amount granted was $597,554.
Ministry of Social Development housing general manager Karen Hocking encouraged anyone in need of assistance to talk to them about their situation.
"We don't want them sleeping rough or in their cars," Hocking said.
"When people come to us with an urgent need for housing, we support them to find a place to stay as quickly as possible – this includes supporting people in the Far North district with emergency housing."
Hocking said the Ministry is working with the HUD and other agencies to implement the Aotearoa New Zealand Homelessness Action Plan.
"This includes expanding the range of responses for those at-risk of homelessness, including rangatahi."
The Solomon Group recently partnered up with the Whakamanamai Whānau Trust's Whare to the Whenua scheme to help Northland's homeless into portable cabins under a new "rent-to-bless" scheme.
Donohoe said the cabins are "a great idea for a transitional solution".
"Is it long-term? I'm not sure. But for immediate housing needs it's less risky, provides them with warm safe housing and it's affordable.
"Teen mums would need more structure but it could work if several of them were placed together to create a community where they could have shared facilities."
Teen housing survey
In 2019 Hiwa-i-te rangi Northland College Teen Parent Unit carried out a survey looking into students' housing situations.
Of those surveyed, 34.4 per cent were living in unsuitable housing.
The organisation defines unsuitable housing as:
* poor quality or overcrowded housing
* drug or family violence issues
* relationship and whānau issues
* short-term housing
Read the series
Day one: Our Hidden Homeless: Families living in cars and tents; couch-surfing grandmas
Day two: Eric Monk finally has a place to call home
Day three: Northland's elderly living in Third World conditions