Man des­per­ate for home, job, af­ter win­ter spent in car

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE - GE­ORGE BLOCK ge­orge.block@odt.co.nz

A DUNEDIN man who spent win­ter liv­ing in his car hates his sit­u­a­tion and says he is des­per­ate for hous­ing and a job.

The man’s sit­u­a­tion has come to light as a sup­port ser­vice says re­quests for ac­com­mo­da­tion as­sis­tance have reached a record high.

Brent McEwan has been sleep­ing in the front seat of his sedan for the past five months, hud­dled un­der blan­kets.

The 42­year­old said he be­gan liv­ing in his car af­ter his fa­ther died of cancer and he was un­able to re­main in the rental prop­erty they shared.

‘‘I hate it, but you have to do what you have to do.’’

A gas cooker dou­bles as a heater on cold nights, while blan­kets and canned food are scat­tered around the ve­hi­cle.

‘‘You gotta keep warm . . . I keep a lit­tle crack in the win­dow.’’

He washes him­self in the toi­lets at the Dunedin City Li­brary and cleans his clothes and blan­kets reg­u­larly at a laun­dro­mat.

Unemployed for more than a year, he drives around each day to find the qui­etest spot to bed down for the night, of­ten end­ing up in car parks where he can snag a se­cluded spot away from pry­ing eyes.

Mr McEwan said he was ea­ger to get back into paid em­ploy­ment.

He had been on the wait­ing list for Dunedin City Coun­cil com­mu­nity hous­ing for sev­eral months, but be­lieved he would be liv­ing in his car for a while yet.

‘‘I’ve got my name down for some houses, but they’re all full as.

‘‘I’m not get­ting my hopes up. It could be a while.’’

The sta­tis­tics sug­gest he was right to be pes­simistic.

Coun­cil hous­ing man­ager Alana Reid said 209 peo­ple were on the wait­ing list for com­mu­nity hous­ing in Septem­ber.

‘‘We are com­mit­ted to match­ing ap­pli­cants, par­tic­u­larly those over 55 years with low in­comes, to suit­able, long­term ac­com­mo­da­tion.’’

How­ever, for those aged un­der 55 like Mr McEwan, the wait­ing list for hous­ing was more than nine months, Ms Reid said.

Fam­ily Works prac­tice man­ager Deb Gelling said her or­gan­i­sa­tion, part of Pres­by­te­rian Sup­port Otago, had seen a record num­ber of peo­ple re­quest­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing some who were liv­ing in their ve­hi­cles.

‘‘We as­sist peo­ple who are in a range of stress­ful liv­ing sit­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing some who have been liv­ing in ve­hi­cles at times.

‘‘We’ve seen a steady and record num­ber of peo­ple re­quest­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion as­sis­tance this year.’’

❛ I hate it, but you have to do what you have to do

PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

Af­ter liv­ing in his car through a Dunedin win­ter, Brent McEwan says he is ea­ger for a job and a fixed abode.

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