Wilhelmina Shrimpton: Give Susan's kids a fair chance

Susan Teara's family
Susan Teara's family

By Wilhelmina Shrimpton

Yesterday I met Susan Teara and her ten children. Her family are another victim of the country's social housing shortage. 

Just over a week ago her brother-in-law took her family in to his already full two-bedroom Housing NZ home in Mangere. 

The tiny house is now shelter to 21 people.

I felt compelled to talk more about her story after reading some of the comments made about her situation. To me, Susan and her family are victims of circumstance, rather, a series of unfortunate events. 

Originally she came to Auckland from Northland to help with her new grandchild, and after some time in the city realised she couldn't afford to keep paying the rent for her Kaitaia home. She packed up her family, and last December moved them all to Auckland. 

They bounced around more accommodation than any family should. Other family members' homes, Ronald McDonald House, Women's Refuge, Work and Income-funded motels, a carport and finally ended up in the cramped property they currently call home.

She told me she had no other option. She's searched numerous property listings, and remains on the Housing New Zealand wait-list. She says she's willing to move away from Auckland and down to Waikato if it means she can secure a home. 

But the sad reality is there's just nothing available. She told me she believes her family has slipped through the cracks, and overlooked due to its size.

Not only that but Housing New Zealand, the very agency she needs help from, says they need to move out of the tiny Mangere house, or her brother-in-law will risk losing his tenancy.

When I met Susan I could tell she is a mother who cares. She's trying to do the best for her family. The house may be overcrowded, but it's warm, dry and clean. Despite moving around the past six months, she's tried to keep her kids in the same school, overloading her small station wagon to get them there on time every day. 

Susan has even declined an offer to stay at the nearby Te Puea Marae, so as not to disrupt her children's new routine. What also struck me was how happy and positive her kids are, smiling, asking questions, one even giving me a hug.

Some have slammed her on social media, questioning why she's chosen to have such a large family. That may be a fair question, but what's not fair is her kids not being given access to a proper home. Why should they be punished due to circumstance? 

Whether someone has one, two or ten kids is irrelevant. What is relevant is that they deserve a fair chance. We pride ourselves on being a country with equal opportunities, but how can we honestly say that when there are families being denied access to basic necessities?

Thankfully for Susan, Te Puea Marae opened its doors last Tuesday. They've taken in 18 families -- nine of which they've already managed to house. 

They're also delivering care packages to families sleeping in cars, and others like Susan who are in need of a helping hand. It's a slick operation. Maori wardens direct cars to the pick-up and drop-off points, there's volunteers packing up the huge number of donations they've received, and people in the kitchen preparing hot meals.

In a matter of days they've turned their Marae into a successful community agency. If they can achieve that much in less than a week, why can't our Government-run agencies do the same? 

Te Puea may be doing fantastic work, but why should it also be left to our community groups to pick up the slack?

Te Puea Marae says it wants to do as much as it can. It'll stay open until the end of winter, but admits what it's doing is sadly not sustainable. It hopes to get more families into houses in the next couple of days, and that includes Susan Teara and her kids.

I only hope the ground they and other community groups like them have made, will shine more light on the shortfalls of our country's social housing.