More than 30,000 New Zealanders lack a proper home, and live instead in cars, caravan parks, night shelters, boarding houses or on the street. It’s one of the most striking symptoms of a country in which people lead increasingly precarious lives.
For several months last year, Daniel Rangiwhetu and his partner Temperance were living in a tent in Wellington’s town belt. Rangiwhetu had lost his job as a gardening contractor, and because of difficulties with Work and Income, Housing New Zealand and other agencies, hadn’t been able to get a benefit straight away. He and Temperance had been living precariously for a long time before that, shifting from one unstable lodging to another and winding up at a backpackers by the Wellington railway station. Once they couldn’t pay the rent there, the only option was to sleep rough.
For those months, he and Temperance pitched their tent just behind the children’s playground that sits on the city side of the Mt Victoria tunnel, next to a path that winds up into the town belt. When I first met Rangiwhetu beside this tent back in November last year, he was putting on a brave face. “It has been good living out here,” he said, “because people come and say hello, and give us food and drop in hot drinks. We have had no hassles from the public. People think it’s really funny, us living here. Even the walkers who go past, they ask if we are okay. We know their dogs now, so we can pat them.”
But after a while, Rangiwhetu let show his anger and frustration. “It really does hurt, what’s happening. I’m hurt, I’m angry. I’m angry every day, because I can’t do anything.” Exacerbating the situation was his medical condition: he was born without functioning bowels, so has a colostomy bag. To make matters worse, the bag didn’t always work properly, so faecal matter got extruded around the join between the bag and the tube in his stomach. As a result of other internal issues, Rangiwhetu was also “leaking out the back passage”, as he put it. He estimated he had endured 298 procedures in his life, and was losing faith in the medical system. “I have started giving up going to doctors’ appointments. I’m sick of the different stories, sick of people saying, you are fixed, and not being fixed.”
If changing a colostomy bag is challenging in regular circumstances, think about what it’s like trying to do it in a tent. “I get up to go to the toilet, and it just comes pouring out. I go to the [public toilets], sit down there and wash myself using the tap. It’s hard to do my washing. I’ve got nowhere to do it. I’ve got nowhere to wash, except this. All my clothes are soiled. I need to use a washing machine, a dryer…”
It wasn’t much of a life, living in a tent. Rangiwhetu and his partner didn’t have anywhere to cook, and virtually no money, so they relied on donated pre-cooked food. “Cream doughnuts, chocolate éclairs. We have pretty much had no meat. I have had a lot of things [that] we have given back that we can’t cook.” They weren’t even warm. “It does get cold,” Rangiwhetu said, looking into the tent. “That’s why I wear my clothes all night.”
Article continues in issue 132 and can be read online at www.nzgeographic.co.nz
Written by Max Rashbrooke
Photography by Camus Wyatt