Wellington family-of-seven desperate for emergency motel 'hell' to end after losing home

Tania says her family's experience at the Palmerston North motel has been "utter hell".
Tania says her family's experience at the Palmerston North motel has been "utter hell". Photo credit: Supplied

Warning: This article discusses suicidal ideation.

Tania* was convinced leaving her Wellington home was the best thing for her family.

For months, the 37-year-old mum, her partner and their five children had been hounded by their neighbours. The bullying and harassment had gotten so bad the police were even involved.

"When we were going out, our kids were being videoed, our car was being kicked in - it was really nasty stuff."

At the same time, the family were also locked in a dispute with their landlord over the dogs they had living on the Tawa property. Eventually, pressure told and the matter was taken to court.

They contacted the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) about the situation in January and were told to get advice from Tenancy Services.

But when the family were told they could break their 12-month tenancy early by making a one-off $350 payment to their landlord, the opportunity to bring an end to the stresses of living at the property was one they couldn't turn down.

"We didn't want to stay in the house, it was pure hell… So I paid the fee," Tania said.

"The neighbour was just so disgusting and so mean to us for so long… I thought, 'yay, we have to leave everything behind but we're altogether as a family, we'll start this new journey.' But it's not been a very good journey."

What Tania didn't realise at that time was by breaking the tenancy contract, she'd given her family just a fortnight to vacate the property and find somewhere new.

That was not an easy task. Both Tania and her partner are beneficiaries, so they're limited by their finances - and as well as themselves and their five kids, they had two dogs to consider too.

The kitchen of one of two emergency motel units Tania's family of seven were staying in.
The kitchen of one of two emergency motel units Tania's family of seven were staying in. Photo credit: Supplied

That's not to mention the usual rigmarole of finding a home in Wellington's notoriously under-supplied rental market.

"I tried," Tania said. "I applied for numerous houses, I'd done applications, I visited - it'd just been ongoing, non-stop."

But despite scouring the capital for somewhere that would take them in for a fortnight, they were out of time and out of luck. They had no choice but to move out of their rental.

With nowhere else to go, the family of seven were now homeless.

'We hate it here'

Having exhausted all options - not even public and emergency housing providers in Wellington could accommodate them - it was time to look further afield.

The family eventually tracked down a motel in Palmerston North willing to host them and, with some financial assistance from MSD to help them relocate and get set up in their new place, they made the two-hour journey north.

They were grateful for the assistance - Tania thanks God they don't all have to live in a car together - but there's no denying the month since leaving their home and moving into the motel has been tough going.

"It's been utter hell," said Tania. "It's very, very, very stressful."

The challenges began near-on straight away. Seven people and two dogs jammed into two small studio motel units will always be a tight squeeze but it was what was going on outside their rooms that concerned Tania.

Within two days of moving in, her son was playing with a scooter owned by another child at the motel when he fell off and the rusty handle penetrated his chest near his heart, requiring stitches. It was the beginning of several weeks in and out of hospital for the family.

Days later her son was back in a hospital bed when another child punched him on his wound, reopening his stitches and causing it to become infected.

At the same time, Tania's 13-year-old daughter was herself hospitalised after becoming covered in nasty sores. Staff told her they were likely to be from bed bugs and impetigo picked up by other children.

After being sent home with antibiotics, her daughter's condition only worsened. Within days she had pus leaking from a sore on her neck and test results indicated she had an infection that required further hospital treatment.

Then the whole family got Omicron.

"We didn't know the whole place was filled up with COVID - even the manager and staff. So we kind of walked in from a fire to another fire," Tania told Newshub.

"We've been very sick, we've had no help. We've been in this little place, I know it's only been 20 days but it's 20 days of pure hell."

Adding to the family's stress is the other inhabitants of the motel. Tania said it's overrun with gang members and unfettered alcohol abuse is rife.

Two of her sons were also beaten up and had rocks thrown at their heads by other children at the motel last week, she said.

"It's really bad. All the kids are running around with wet nappies, runny noses, school sores. Even my car has about five more dents in it and someone's taken all my wheel caps off," Tania said.

"I'm just a mother trying to live. We hate it here."

'I want my family to live happy'

Tania acknowledges it's up to her to dig herself and her family out of their current predicament.

She's also well aware it was her call to choose to end the tenancy at their Wellington rental - though she insists they weren't told they'd only have a fortnight to vacate when they did.

They now wish they'd never left, even with all the difficulties they'd had with their neighbours and landlord.

"I thought, as long as I've got my family, all my other possessions - I didn't mind [what happened]."

But the situation is dire and they're desperate to get back on their feet. Tania said her mental health has suffered so badly she "wouldn't be here" if not for her children.

"It's very frustrating, it's stressful. My anxiety, my depression has hit the roof… but I've got my babies and I love my babies, and I'll never stop trying for them."

But try as she might, Tania and her partner are still struggling to make ends meet and escape their emergency motel nightmare.

They continue to receive the benefit payments and tax credits they are eligible for, which also provides for the children, but they also have to pay 25 percent of their household income towards their emergency housing bill.

Tania is paying her family's entire contribution out of her own benefit and as a result, her net payments are down to just $2.04 a week.

MSD was unable to reveal how much her partner was earning.

Tania said the assistance they need just isn't there.

"We just need a little bit more help. You try so hard and get nowhere.

"We've had a little measly box sent to the room with bananas and cans and I was grateful for it - but there really is not much help here."

Stories like Tania's are becoming increasingly common in New Zealand. She is one of an estimated 10,000 Kiwis currently living in emergency accommodation, of which 4500 are children.

The cost of emergency motels to the taxpayer rose from just $6 million in the final quarter of 2017 to $82 million by 2020.

Then, in the last three months of 2021, costs rose to $109 million - an increase of about $27 million in just a year. Overall, the cost of emergency housing in last year was in excess of $350 million.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has acknowledged, ideally, New Zealand would not be using emergency housing at all, but said she'd rather be "using those facilities than having people in cars or garages or on the street".

For Tania, she just wants her nightmare to end.

"What I want is for my family to live happy. I just want to be a normal, happy, non-depressed, non-sick, non-bullied family and we just want to live," she said.

"I want my kids to go back to school. I want to feel good within myself and not feel like my anxiety and depression is high to the point it's dangerous."

MSD told Newshub staff are now working with Tania to get the family on the housing register having recently completed an assessment of her current housing needs.

*This name has been changed.

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