Budget 2019: Struggling community can't wait any longer

by RNZ / 30 May, 2019

Will the Wellbeing Budget deliver?

As the country waits for the government's first Wellbeing budget, Tamaki residents say their community doesn't have the luxury of waiting around for discussions, debates and promises any longer.

Students at Auckland's Tamaki college told First Up their families had been evicted from their Housing New Zealand homes to make way for a new housing redevelopment.

The students said their families were forced to pay more for private rentals in South Auckland on top of extra costs for travel and they're families are now struggling even more than they were before.

National's Simon O'Connor, the MP for Tamaki, is urging families who have been forced out of his electorate due to housing redevelopment to come to him, saying they shouldn't have been forced out.

At a Kidscan breakfast club, a couple of hundred kids - that's almost half the school - showed up to the wharekai to receive a free meal.

Apart from the usual breakfast of fruit, muesli, yoghurt and toast available there was also koko laisa being served outside the wharekai in celebration of Samoan language week.

"Food is a challenge for our people," says Soana Pamaka, principal of the decile one school which is located in the highest deprivation bracket in the country.

"It may be a challenge for the New Zealand community to understand the fact that having enough food for young people is a problem and a challenge for our community, but it is."

As the country waits for the unveiling of the government's first Wellbeing budget, Ms Pamaka says her community doesn't have the luxury of waiting around for discussions,  debates and promises any longer.

Students at Tamaki College. Photo: RNZ / First Up

Students at Tamaki College. Photo: RNZ / First Up

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"With the challenges that we're faced with on the ground every day - and what does that look like? In winter it's cold children, hungry children throughout the year," said Ms Pamaka

"And of course, we know that if you're hungry and cold, you're not at your best learning."

Like her students, Ms Pamaka is hoping to see more support for her community in the wellbeing budget.

"I'd like to see some support for our parents as they struggle to provide for their young people. Mental wellbeing is a big challenge for our young people at the moment. We have one psychiatrist who comes into the school once a week - but the need is higher than that."

The community has seen a number of youth suicides over the years, on top of the pressure of deprivation and rising rental prices.

The free meals provided by Kidscan come as a relief but for some kids, it's the most they'll eat in a day.

74-year-old Barbara Te Kare is the chair of the school board but also the school's volunteer cook. The retired social worker spends 11 hours a day, three times a week preparing meals for the kids.

She says a lot of the students arrive at school without breakfast. "We get a lot of hungry kids, they come in droves," says Barbara, who is known to the kids as "Nanny Barb".

74-year-old Barbara Te Kare is the chair of the school board and also the school's volunteer cook. Photo: RNZ / First Up

74-year-old Barbara Te Kare is the chair of the school board and also the school's volunteer cook. Photo: RNZ / First Up

"I love the kids and love the school and I just enjoy doing whatever is needed. You'll hear them call out 'Thanks Nanny Barb, thanks for the food'.and I know they appreciate it."

Year 13 students Lu Faaui, Uili Tumanuvao, Sela Tukia, Francis Nimo and Efi Gaono are among the many kids who thanked Nanny Barb for their meal today.

When asked what they wanted to see out of the Wellbeing budget, they didn't hold back.

"I like to see more support towards families that have been moved out of our area. For example, we've grown up here, but due to the housing development, we've had to move out to South Auckland. So we travel from South Auckland, to GI [Glen Innes] everyday to come to school," Sela said.

"We got moved due to the housing development - that's why we had to leave. But either way, since moving there, we've been forced to go private (rental) which has been more expensive than our first original house."

Now, travelling to school from South Auckland is costing Sela and her family an extra $33 a week which she says has added more pressure to her family.

For her friend Lu, his story was the same, "Just like Sela said it's forced us to move out of GI (Glen Innes) and yeah my family just decides to cope with it. It's made my Dad work even more hours. My mum gets two jobs, my sister gets two jobs. I mean, money is money you know," said Lu.

"We were perfect just where we were. I mean we were just up the road easy, access to school. But now we've got to pay nearly 40 bucks every week just to come out to school."

Uili Tumanuvao's family has managed to stay in the area but he says rising rent prices has added a lot of pressure.

"I work at Pak'n Save part-time to help out with my family. There's six of us and we're still living in GI. Everyone in my family works except for my younger sister. So I'm kind of different to these guys because we're still here. The rent is expensive that's why there's so many people working in the household," Uili said.

"It does stress me out sometimes but I manage to cope with my friends and family being there for me."

Tamaki MP Simon O'Connor said it wasn't acceptable that families were having to move out of the areas as well as paying extra costs for travel because of the redevelopment projects.

"From my knowledge of the project, as part of the Tamaki Promise - if they're moving you out of one state house in order to build a new one, that you get to stay in the area," Mr O'Connor said.

"There is meant to be that support if you're moving to be kept within Glen Innes or in Panmure as well as assistance with costs as well. I really encourage those families affected to engage because that's not the way it's meant to be for the families of Glen Innes."

Mr O'Connor said the government needed to deliver substance in its Wellbeing Budget.

"We're hearing lots of talk from this government with big, sometimes eye-watering numbers of money but we're not sure how to deliver it," he said

"And you're hearing from those young people - a lot more help in mental support. I want to see exactly how that's going to manifest itself in this great community."

About two thirds of Mr O'Connor's Tamaki community are Maori and Pasifika, according to the last census.

Government figures show Maori and Pasifika youth have the highest rates of suicide and attempted suicide in the country.

It's something these kids like Sela know all too well, "I don't think that the government realized that our school - we're more family oriented at school. So if it hurts one person hurts it hurts the rest of us too because we're all one. So due to like, the lack of support for like mental well being within our community many of our people have chosen ... to commit suicide. And we've had many friends that have done that," said Sela.

"And it's had a negative effect on our well being even if the people don't know them, they're still from your community. So I think we need more help like psychiatrists or counsellors but especially Pacific ones that we can relate to."

The government has promised that its wellbeing budget will have five key priorities including reducing child poverty and supporting mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders, particularly young people.

For the students in Tamaki College, they say they want to see more than just promises in parliament.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.

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