'Hidden homeless' living with immense debt


More and more of the so-called "hidden homeless" are coming forward to share the immense debt that they now owe Work and Income (WINZ) for emergency housing.

One mother of eight children has accrued $74,000 in the past 10 months -- a sum she says she'll never pay off -- but Minister for Social Development Anne Tolley says fair's fair, and she has to pay.

Meanwhile, Tuaine Murray doesn't have a home, so she's making do with a motel and borrowing nearly $1500 a week from WINZ to cover the bills. That task is made all the more difficult because her 11-year-old son is in a wheelchair.

"I'm going blind. I'm trying to look after my son, and my husband's trying to look after the both of us, and yeah, it's very, very hard," she says.

It's hard too for "Jane", the mother of eight, with children ranging from five months of age to 11 years old. She owes WINZ $74,000 for a one-bedroom unit at a motel. She has nowhere else to go and says she can't pay it back.

"Who can afford to pay $74,000 that had just been clocked up in a couple of months? I could have bought a home with that money," she says.

The family were kicked out of their Housing New Zealand home last year after it tested positive for methamphetamine. Jane says she asked for a health and safety check to be done before they moved in, but it wasn't. When it eventually did come back positive, she and her family were left to pay the price.

"I would like to know: why wasn't it done sooner? Why did me and my children have to breathe up all of those chemicals?"

Labour Party leader Andrew Little says families in this position shouldn't have to foot bills in the same way.

"These people are not in a situation of their own making; it's largely a failure of Government, and that debt should be written off," he says.

But Ms Tolley says Jane, and others like her, just have to pay up.

"What about the people that have actually worked hard and paid their debt off in the past? And how much debt do you forgive and when do you start?

"I would rather have a system that is fair."

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says the system is changing later this year, and says owing WINZ money is better than owing money to loan sharks.

"The alternative is that they don't have access to borrow that sort of money, and then as a consequence they're in a worse situation," she says.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, maintains there's no "housing crisis".

"The Opposition is always using emotive terms like that," says John Key.

However, Ms Murray has a message for those that aren't getting it.

"Come and see us, or talk to somebody you know. There's a lot more people that are still on the street, or in their cars, and they're struggling more than me."