Duncan Garner: Pull the desperate and homeless out of the Christchurch black hole

07/03/2014

Yesterday I was overwhelmed by desperation. There are people in Christchurch who are simply desperate. They are at their wits end. Coping is now their daily battle.

They don’t think about where to go on holiday, they’re not contemplating their weekends, they are busy and plain exhausted just coping.

Getting up in the morning should be a joy. For these people it’s misery – and they can’t see any light at the end of this very long tunnel. I think it’s fair to say these people have fallen through the cracks.

They are families. They have children. They have jobs. They are homeless.

Three years from the massive earthquake in Christchurch, the reality is some families are living in leaking and damp homes. They are the lucky ones, believe it or not. Angela Allan lives in a leaky, damaged house, which is on a lean. Her 16 month old child is in and out of hospital with breathing problems. She’s in a fight with EQC, while her baby’s health is deteriorating. She’s desperate.

The even unluckier ones are in sheds, garages and, in the worst instances, they reside in their car. I am gobsmacked this is happening with all the supposed assistance and resource being fed into Christchurch – more than $5bn of Government money – and up to $38bn in insurance money.

Yet still, decent Kiwis have fallen through the gaps. Why is it happening? For a number of reasons.

These people do not qualify for emergency housing, for one reason or another, and that needs to change. Immediately.

Rents have shot through the roof in Christchurch. Rents for a two bedroom place in the city now range from $110-$660; that locks so many people out.

This is what Sheena from Christchurch told me:

“We will not be able to relocate in Christchurch because of the high rents, people that I work with are paying anywhere from $600 - $110 per week for a 2 bedroom house. When the above happens we will relocate to Dunedin, that is of course that we will be able to find jobs in this location. I feel so sorry for families that have nowhere to go except their cars or garages. I don't think that the rest of NZ realize how desperate that some people in Chch are!

This was from Kimmy:

“The crisis in Christchurch is growing. Key and Brownlee know indeed what immediate steps to take but are to gutless to action any.”

This was from David:

“Our rent here is by far as high if not higher than Auckland. If our max accommodation allowances were increased it would give people more income to be able to afford a home in chch. It’s $75 here, in Auck it’s $160. So many people are being pushed out of their homes because they cannot afford the ever rising rents. Landlords are raising rents of their existing tenants. The whole situation is disgusting and is creating major insecurities for everyone. Something needs to give.”

I interviewed Simon Frederick who has set up a Facebook page for those facing housing problems. Within weeks he’s had 1,400 people sign up. His most heartbreaking story is of a family of four who face moving into their car from tomorrow. He also told me this in an email:

“I have two solo mothers one living in a sleep out full of holes and rats and another facing homelessness within two weeks from now.”

Simon also came on air with me yesterday; he was desperate on behalf of others. After we talked, offers came in. People started offering their holiday houses and spare bedrooms. To those people I say thank you.

Simon has been in touch and he is taking up the offer, but it shouldn’t come to this. It should not come down to charity three years on from the earthquake and three days after the worst floods in 100 years. It flooded so badly because Christchurch has changed so dramatically. And it will continue to flood.

This might not be popular, but those people under water over the last few days need to be relocated, otherwise this will just keep happening. It should have been a one in five year flood, but the land has dropped, the houses are uninhabitable; it’s time to make tough decisions.

In other areas – some red-zones – houses have been red-stickered, but there is no flooding. People could live in these houses, but they aren’t. The real decision that should have been made three years ago was a decision to provide temporary housing for the worst-off. A proper earthquake village – administered by the Government for the people. It was never done.

A massive earthquake deserved an extra-ordinary response. The Prime Minister promised the people of Christchurch that they would be no worse off. Many of them are, Prime Minister. It’s not your fault. It’s just the case and now is the time for urgency.

Christchurch needs decent and cheap temporary accommodation, on a scale that matches the disaster that happened on February 22, 2011. Japan did it after the tsunami, within three weeks they had temporary villages set-up. Japan went on the war-footing.

This is not a criticism of the Government. That won’t get anyone anywhere. Gerry Brownlee and John Key have a massive job to do. But I genuinely think some people have been over-looked. It happens when you’re dealing with a disaster of this scale.

This is unprecedented in NZ. The market has not provided the solution. It was never going to. We need to step in and pull the vulnerable and desperate out of their black hole – before it’s too late.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said yesterday this housing issue requires a "multi-agency approach" – to me that’s bureaucratic speak. The desperate souls don’t care who provides it – they just want help. Drop the official language.

We’re not that poor, we’re not the third world, we’re good, caring people. We’re Kiwis and we must not stand by and allow our fellow country men and women and their kids to live in such misery.

Not now.

Not ever.

source: data archive