Mum’s spi­ral af­ter baby’s death in earth­quake

The Southland Times - - FEATURES - MICHAEL HAYWARD

Six years af­ter the Can­ter­bury earth­quake killed her baby, Tracey Har­ris has found her­self home­less. Since Fe­bru­ary, she has lived in a car, with rel­a­tives and, this week, in a mo­tel unit.

Har­ris, whose 8-month-old son Jay­den died af­ter a tele­vi­sion fell on him in the Fe­bru­ary 2011 earth­quake, ad­mits she has not al­ways been the best ten­ant, but says she needs a home to turn her life around.

‘‘Our life was al­most per­fect. Then, in a mat­ter of sec­onds, ev­ery­thing changed for the worse, and noth­ing’s been con­sis­tently good since,’’ she said. ’’I need a house to fight to get my kids back, get my life on track and be sta­ble.’’

The Te­nancy Tri­bunal ended Har­ris’ te­nancy in a Hous­ing New Zealand home in Fe­bru­ary be­cause of ar­rears of $1836. She had been liv­ing there since July 2012. Prop­erty dam­age of $3160 was found.

Har­ris and her then part­ner, who lived in the house since Oc­to­ber 2014, could not find any­where to stay so spent sev­eral weeks liv­ing in his Mit­subishi Leg­num.

Since then, Har­ris has spent time liv­ing in the car, with rel­a­tives and in tem­po­rary emer­gency hous­ing fa­cil­i­ties, while strug­gling to find a per­ma­nent home.

‘‘I was ap­ply­ing ev­ery sin­gle day on Trade Me for houses, but I learned the hard way that land­lords ex­pect you to have a per­fect credit his­tory, per­fect ref­er­ences and to be work­ing.’’

She said los­ing her son in the earth­quake sent her into a spi­ral of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and de­pres­sion.

‘‘It took me 12 months to even have a clear head,’’ she said.

‘‘If I could end up like Paula Ben­nett, where she came from be­ing a sin­gle mother, very young, on the ben­e­fit, state house, to where she is now, I’d be happy.’’

Har­ris has six liv­ing chil­dren, two of whom were born be­fore the quake. Her twin daugh­ters Kaylee and Alexis, born in 2013, gave Har­ris hope and pur­pose, un­til her re­la­tion­ship with their fa­ther ended in 2014. The twins live with their fa­ther. Har­ris does not work be­cause of her de­pres­sion and at­tends reg­u­lar coun­selling ses­sions.

Her men­tal health is­sues mean her chil­dren do not live with her.

She and her for­mer part­ner got be­hind with the rent at the Hous­ing NZ prop­erty when he lost his job, she said.

He paid the $180-a-week rent while Har­ris put her Work­ing for Fam­i­lies ben­e­fit to­wards her chil­dren, she said.

Af­ter weeks in the car, Har­ris and her then-part­ner stayed with his aunt out of ‘‘sheer des­per­a­tion’’. Af­ter about a month, they could no longer stay there so went back to liv­ing in the car.

‘‘I got very, very sick to the point that I missed two weeks of con­tact with my kids … I ended up at the doc­tor twice. I ended up with bron­chi­tis and a chest in­fec­tion.’’

In May, Har­ris suc­cess­fully ap­plied for emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion as­sis­tance so they could stay in a mo­tel, be­fore be­ing moved to a tran­si­tional hous­ing placement.

This ended when her re­la­tion­ship broke up and she had to find other ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions.

She spent a cou­ple of weeks with fam­ily then moved into a mo­tel last week through Work and In­come sup­port.

She said her ac­com­mo­da­tion was only paid for un­til yes­ter­day.

Af­ter that, Har­ris does not know what she will do. If she can­not find some­where, she will be moved to an­other mo­tel, and have to start pay­ing for ac­com­mo­da­tion at a sub­sidised rate, she said.

She said the sit­u­a­tion caused ‘‘a lot of stress’’.

Har­ris has been sus­pended from rent­ing a Hous­ing NZ home for a year, as this was the sec­ond time she had gone into ar­rears in 10 years of rent­ing their houses.

She had caused $3875 of dam­age at a pre­vi­ous Hous­ing NZ prop­erty, area man­ager Robin Ma­son said.

Hous­ing NZ ’’re­peat­edly’’ tried to en­gage with Har­ris to sus­tain her most re­cent te­nancy, Ma­son said.

‘‘Most ten­ants look af­ter their houses, pay their rent on time and are re­spect­ful of their neigh­bours.’’

He said Hous­ing NZ tried to en­gage with Har­ris both be­fore and af­ter the Te­nancy Tri­bunal hear­ing.

Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment re­gional di­rec­tor ser­vice de­liv­ery Can­ter­bury Shane Carter said they were in reg­u­lar con­tact with Har­ris to dis­cuss her hous­ing needs, but un­der­stood the stress of her sit­u­a­tion and her on­go­ing health con­cerns might make it hard for her to talk with them.

‘‘We en­cour­age her to keep talk­ing with us so we can look at suit­able op­tions for her.’’

Carter said Har­ris con­tacted them in Novem­ber 2016 to dis­cuss help for rent ar­rears.

The min­istry told her what was needed for the ap­pli­ca­tion but she did not sup­ply it.

‘‘When she called to ap­ply for this as­sis­tance again, in Fe­bru­ary, the de­tails of her te­nancy were be­ing con­sid­ered by the Te­nancy Tri­bunal.

‘‘We asked that she pro­vide us with con­fir­ma­tion that she could re­main in this prop­erty if the ar­rears were paid, but we did not re­ceive this.’’

He said Har­ris put in an ap­pli­ca­tion for the min­istry’s so­cial hous­ing reg­is­ter when her re­la­tion­ship ended, which was re­viewed sev­eral times be­cause of changes in her cir­cum­stances.

‘‘Now she has con­firmed her sit­u­a­tion with us, we have been able to com­plete her ap­pli­ca­tion.’’

As of June 2017, the mean time for some­one to be housed through the reg­is­ter was 116 days.

Tracey Har­ris said she needs a house to ‘‘fight to get my kids back, get my life on track and be sta­ble’’.

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