About 1% of New Zealanders are homeless. That makes our homelessness rate the highest among the 35 high-income countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) (*The Borgen Project – September 2020). In March 2018, home ownership was at its lowest in almost 70 years. Since then, the median house price has almost doubled and renters have faced increases of up to 25%. All in a housing market where it is getting more difficult to find a home.
This is the first in a series of three Visionwest stories putting a human face to New Zealand’s housing crisis as we introduce whānau who have been supported by Visionwest through their struggle with homelessness.
Mirwais has spent much of his life homeless, first in refugee camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and then, since moving to New Zealand, struggling to find suitable accommodation. That’s now in the past. Today, Mirwais and his family have a permanent home and his children are settled in local schools but, in New Zealand’s current housing climate, it hasn’t been easy.
“When I was 3 years old, my family fled from Afghanistan into Pakistan where we lived in a refugee camp. It was a hard time. For 14 years we lived, first in a tent, then in a mud house.”
When the Afghanistan Government changed, Mirwais and his family returned to discover their town had been destroyed. They had just completed the rebuilding of their home when the Taliban came and, again, they had to flee. Shortly after, they moved to New Zealand as refugees.
“In New Zealand, we settled into work and were enjoying life here until, in 2017, our landlord served notice on our house and we were forced to find a new place to live. That’s when we discovered how difficult it can be to find a home in New Zealand. It was so disheartening. Not only were there very few houses available, but those advertised had exorbitant rents.”
Mirwais visited the local Ministry of Social Development (MSD) office and relayed his family’s story. He was told the family was eligible for housing and they were placed on a waiting list – then the wait began.
“When the last day of our tenancy came it was a terrible day. We’d worked so hard here in New Zealand but now we were going to be homeless. We were placed in a camping ground in Manurewa. My wife, Jamilla, was 36 weeks pregnant. There was no outside area for our children to play. We were stuck in two small rooms and, being midsummer, it was very hot.
“After two months and three days, we were told the camp was booked for a school camp meaning we’d have to move out. We were told it was up to us to find somewhere to stay and, if it met the necessary criteria, it would be approved. That sounds straightforward and easy but it’s not.
“We eventually found a motel which was approved. We lived there for a while until we heard about the Visionwest transitional housing in South Auckland and were accommodated there.
“At this point, I was so relieved. I felt the stress vanish. Everything was instantly so much better. Sure, we still had to find a more permanent place to live, but we didn’t have that immediate challenge hanging over our heads.
“We began looking for permanent housing immediately – it took almost three years. During that time, I phoned MSD every day and went out looking at rental properties. Most were way too expensive for us.
“Then, one day, everything changed. We were told there was a house that would suit us and there was a huge chance that we could get it. We drove over to West Auckland, took one look at it, and loved it. When we were told it was ours to move into, I was so happy, I cried; I told my wife and she cried; we told the children, and they were overjoyed also.
“If you’ve never been homeless, you don’t know how stressful it is to be without a place to live. You look and look—every day you look—but there is no place available or, if there is, it’s way too expensive.
“Every day my wife was crying. Our children were sad and tired from travelling so far to and from school. I was stressed and felt worthless and as if I’d failed my family because every day was taken up looking for a place to live.
“We’ve been in the house for a few months now and it’s wonderful. We’re sleeping again, something we didn’t do for so long because of the stress of thinking about how we would find a house.”