While most people dreaded being locked in their homes for weeks on end during the coronavirus pandemic scare, the Mackies from Rotorua were rapt to be spending their first nights in a real house after being homeless for three years. Journalist Kelly Makiha catches up with Rene'e and Mark about life in lockdown in their new home after living in a vehicle.
Just two days before lockdown, Mark and Rene'e Mackie had a proper roof over their head for the first time in three years.
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And after spending six weeks in lockdown in their new home, they realise they found their house just in the nick of time.
The Mackies lived in a vehicle with their two dogs at different spots around Rotorua for the past three years. More recently, they bought a bus which they parked at Sulphur Point and their two school-age children joined them.
As the country moved to alert level 4 on March 25, all the homeless, including those living in tents at Sulphur Point, were rounded up by the Government and put into two four-star motels on Fenton St.
Rene'e said while the sound of having Sky television and spa baths in the motels might have been appealing, she was very grateful to not be living among the other homeless.
She said she never liked to think of themselves as "homeless", more they were "houseless", and the actions of those who congregated around Kuirau Park during the day always annoyed her.
"We were just a struggling family, we weren't dependent on drugs and alcohol."
The Mackies admit they would have been given a state house earlier if they didn't have their dogs, but that was something strictly non-negotiable.
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After being turned down for what they said was hundreds of homes over the three years, Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities (formerly Ministry of Housing) contacted the Mackies 16 days before lockdown to say they had finally got a house and they could move in on March 23.
Two days before the country shut down under alert level 4, the Mackies spent their first night with a roof over their heads.
Rene'e, who is studying to become a social worker through Toi Ohomai, said it was perfect timing because she was spending all hours of the day and night studying as the amount of work she had to do for her course had increased.
This was on top of homeschooling the two children and her third and youngest child who had learning difficulties who had now joined them in their bubble.
"I don't think we would have coped without the house. I have got all this extra work to do with attendance papers and I wouldn't have had enough power to run my device for starters."
She said her children didn't have their devices for school yet and they were having to share her laptop, which meant her study was usually done late at night and into the early hours of the morning - all of which would have been impossible to manage cramped in a bus.
"I would have failed and the kids would have been behind in their school."
However, it wasn't all roses because living in a house was more expensive than the bus.
Rene'e said between her and Mark, who was on sickness benefit, they got about $400 a week. Of that they pay $150 for rent and $200 for other payments and bills, leaving very little left for food and living expenses.
She said she was usually on the phone to Work and Income each week to get help to pay for things like power and firewood.
But the struggle was all worth it just to be able to give the family their space and - as Rene'e joked - have something to clean.
"Stuck in the bus I used to get sad I couldn't vacuum. I'm a real house proud person and I've already moved my lounge four times since we have been here and my bedroom twice. Being stuck in the bus, you couldn't move anything."
Kāinga Ora programme director Nick Seymour said Rotorua had about 650 government houses.
He said Kāinga Ora's current work programme in the city, that started in mid-2018, would deliver up to 67 new state homes by about the end of winter 2020.
Around half of these have already been built and tenanted. They range in size between one and six bedrooms. We are currently looking at what the next steps might be for more state homes in Rotorua and will keep people up to date as plans are developed."