‘Domino effect’ led Hawke’s Bay mother to live in van, on earnings

A Hawke’s Bay woman has spoken of the ‘domino effect’ that led her to lose her home and turn to Work and Income for help.

Brianna Hihaki spoke to Breakfast on Monday about her journey, parts of which are proving inspiring to some on TikTok.

After leaving a long-term relationship in 2020, Hihaki described having to drop out of full-time studies she hadn’t started in a long time when the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown happened.

She turned to work in the hospitality industry in an effort to pay the mortgage on a house she owned with her former partner.

Hihaki said she eventually lost the house and when accommodation with her two children proved unsuitable, she turned to Work and Income in March last year for help with access housing.

The ministry said there was no emergency housing available for her, so Hihaki sold her belongings and bought a 20-year-old van for her and her children.

With the help of friends and family, Hihaki managed to refurbish the van to make it suitable for sleeping. With a place to live, she resumed studying business management and accounting, but this time on a part-time basis.

After finishing school, she got a job as a part-time accountant, but being also a beneficiary, Hihaki found herself in trouble as money was deducted from her benefits due to her job.

A colleague said that Hihaki had better start her own business to get ahead, so she did. She also now lives in a house.

Hihaki described her journey as a case of “just carrying on”.

Asked about homelessness after Hihaki’s interview, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said situations like Hihaki’s are not acceptable.

“We want everyone to be housed,” she remarked. “We want everyone looking for work to be at work.”

Ardern said that’s why his government has “worked so hard” to increase transitional housing and has created 10,037 public housing units since taking office.

“We are building as fast as possible to ensure we are able to meet the need you describe.”

The Prime Minister acknowledged that the use of emergency housing grants for special needs has increased, but said supports such as transitional housing are not the final answer or the perfect solution.

Ardern denied homelessness had worsened under his government – according to figures from the Ministry of Social Development, last month 480 people were living in their vehicles. At the end of 2017, this number was 108.

The government has also spent more on Special Needs Emergency Housing Grants than National.

Ardern said Breakfast National capped grants during his last term in government, so his lower spending did not necessarily reflect the needs that existed.

“Even though people were sleeping in cars and needing shelter, there were caps, limits, on the amount available and the ability of people to be housed afterwards,” she said.

“One of the biggest and most devastating things I know about housing is that if the last government had built social housing at the rate we are at now, we would have almost wiped out the waiting list of homes So we’re catching up, but we’re not putting caps and artificial stops to the need that exists there.”

On the money deducted from working beneficiaries, Ardern said that was why the government increased benefits, allowed beneficiaries to earn more before their benefits were affected and increased the tax credit. family.

The Prime Minister also said Working for Families was being reviewed to see if it could better meet the needs of Kiwi families.

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