At least with the tent the kids can walk around.
At least with the tent the kids can walk around." Source: New Zealand Herald

Family-of-seven lives in tent with two disabled kids

Every night the family-of-seven huddles around a small plastic table inside the tent, torchlight barely illuminating their hastily-prepared dinner.  

There is no power in the tent so the New Zealand family is forced to use a two-burner gas cooker to prepare their meals. 

If they need to use the bathroom or charge their phones, they head to Gail's mother's retirement unit up the road.   

For the past seven months, this has been a daily reality for Gail, 65 and her two daughters, Sharon, 44, and Margaret, 45.  

They also look after Sharon's kids, Ricky, 22, Dominic, 12, and Shyanne, 6 and Margaret's daughter, Lettisha, 14 - three of whom require constant high-level care.   

"We are in support of each other. If one of us is having a bad day with the kids, the other one takes over," Gail told The New Zealand Herald.  

"We have some arguments and the kids are sick of living in a tent and not having power and water. That's the hardest part. We try to stay happy."   

For the past eight years, the family lived together in a rental home with their two dogs, three cats, chickens, calves and horses.  

Living in the same house helped Sharon and Margaret deal with their kids' complex needs together.   

Shyanne suffers from a rare condition called Cri-du-chat (Cat's Cry) syndrome, which means her physical and mental development is delayed.   

Both she and her brother Dominic, who has ADD, autism, Asperger's, manic depression and anxiety, require specialised one-on-one care.   

Their cousin Lettisha has Long QT syndrome, a heart condition which means she could drop dead at any moment.   All three children have had to be home-schooled.   

In between schooling, Gail and Margaret deliver newspapers and have part-time cleaning jobs, while Sharon works full-time cleaning and Ricky does casual farm work in order to make ends meet. 

It was these jobs that made finding a new home nearly impossible when their landlord decided to renovate late last year.   

As they earn an income, qualifying for social housing was nearly impossible.   

The family did apply for emergency housing but dropped out of the application process when they found out they wouldn't be allowed to bring their pets.   

It was then that they ended up in the tent, which they pitched on privately-owned land near Gail's mum's home.  

"Sometimes I just don't know if we are doing the right thing but we have got nowhere else to go," Gail said.   

"It's either here or living in our car and that's worse. At least with the tent the kids can walk around.  

"We need somewhere where we can stay for a long time and give the kids stability. The hardest part is they just can't adjust to this." Since sharing their story earlier this month, the family has received many offers of support.   

"People are offering donations, even a caravan or tent... It's very kind, but we just really need a house and some space," Gail said.  

Ideally, the family would like any home to come with land so that their pets have space to run around.   

Gail said they would be hard-working tenants, and comfortable with inspections at any time.

"Our last property, we kept it very neat and clean, we probably left it tidier than we found it," she said.


This article originally appeared on Kidspot and has been republished here with permission.

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