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New home for student who slept in tent for six months, after family evicted from state house

By Indira Stewart of rnz.co.nz

Sela Tukia Source: rnz.co.nz

An East Auckland student who ended up sleeping in a tent when families were evicted from their state houses is back in the Tāmaki community - and has a new home.

Sela Tukia and her family were among at least 182 households evicted from Housing New Zealand properties in Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure, when thousands of state houses were transferred to a Government-owned company in 2016.

Many of the families were forced out of the community, and Sela, a Tāmaki College student, slept in a tent in the backyard of her grandmother's home for six months because the house was too crowded.

The Tāmaki Regeneration Company, which manages the huge redevelopment project, contacted students at Tāmaki College in May, after a First Up story on the families went to air, and welcomed them back to the community.

A few weeks ago, Sela and her siblings moved back into the Tāmaki community, and into their new home.

"I was just shocked at how big it was because from the outside it looks very small so - way bigger than I expected," she said.

Taking First Up for a tour, she pointed out the freshly painted walls and the new carpet in the three-story home - one of the newest public housing models which are being built in the area.

For Sela, having her own room is a dream come true after the rough journey she's had the past few years.

The Housing New Zealand eviction notice to Sela's family came on her birthday in 2016.

"We were kind of forced to pack everything up and because my nana's house was around the corner we just left everything there."

"We didn't expect it to take so long for them to find us a house ... we ended up staying at my nana's house [along with] my aunty and my disabled cousin at the time and my nana - plus me and my little sister, my dad, [my sister] Tonga and her son.

"We all stayed in a three-bedroom house with one toilet. It all all ended in me staying in a tent and the rest all stayed inside, they all crammed into the lounge."

Many would find that a difficult experience, but Sela, a student leader in her school, says it was good for her and her siblings because it helped them to grow up.

At the end of 2016, her older sister Tonga became the legal guardian of her and her younger siblings and applied separately for a house under Housing New Zealand.

The department found them a home in Mangere, South Auckland.

But by then, most of the family's furniture and household goods were damaged after being stored in her nana's backyard during the winter so the siblings started again from scratch.

Among the challenges was the commute to school which was often unreliable.

"We'd have to wake up at 5am and then walk to the town centre from our house which was about a 10 minute walk. Then we'd have to bus to the nearest train station - which would be Otahuhu - and then train from there to Glen Innes then walk from Glen Innes to school.

"It was very time-consuming and money-consuming. I think it was just draining."

On the evenings she had extra-curricular activities, she'd get home at around 10pm. In the winter, that often meant walking from the bus stop in the cold, the rain and dark. She said many of her friends are still in that situation.

Now, it takes just two minutes for her to walk to school.

"It makes it way easier.

"Now ... my main concern besides my grades is just looking after my nephew and my sister.

"It's just given me the opportunity to become more well reserved and just work on my mental wellbeing."

Sela said she and many of her friends had never wanted to move school after they were forced out of their homes because the school community was all they had left after being uprooted.

She said she's sharing her story to help others.

"I have a lot of friends who I know want to come back and I have a lot of family who want to come back and I think me reaching out like this is for them," she said.

"I honestly thought the interview was an interview. I never thought that I would get this type of reaction. I never thought that my family would receive this type of help.

To other families who want to move back "push to come back" she says. "Even use me as an example, or use my name as a reference. I do really want the community, if this is what they want, to come back."