Desperate for home, job, after winter spent in car

After living in his car through a Dunedin winter, Brent McEwan says he is eager for a job and a...
After living in his car through a Dunedin winter, Brent McEwan says he is eager for a job and a fixed abode. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
A Dunedin man who spent winter living in his car hates his situation and says he is desperate for housing and a job.

The man’s situation has come to light as a support service says requests for accommodation assistance have reached a record high.

Brent McEwan has been sleeping in the front seat of his sedan for the past five months, huddled under blankets.

The 42-year-old said he began living in his car after his father died of cancer and he was unable to  remain in the rental property they shared.

"I hate it, but you have to do what you have to do."

A gas cooker doubles as a heater on cold nights, while blankets and canned food are scattered around the vehicle.

"You gotta keep warm ... I keep a little crack in the window."

He washes himself in the toilets at the Dunedin City Library and cleans his clothes and blankets regularly at a laundromat.

Unemployed for more than a year, he drives around each day to find the quietest spot to bed down for the night, often ending up in car parks where he can snag a secluded spot away from prying eyes.

Mr McEwan said he was eager to get back into paid employment. He had been on the waiting list for Dunedin City Council community housing for several months, but believed he would be living in his car for a while yet.

"I’ve got my name down for some houses, but they’re all full as.

"I’m not getting my hopes up. It could be a while."

The statistics suggest he was right to be pessimistic.

Council housing manager Alana Reid said  209 people were on the waiting list for community housing in September.

"We are committed to matching applicants, particularly those over 55 years with low incomes, to suitable, long-term accommodation."

However, for those aged under 55 like Mr McEwan, the waiting list for housing was more than nine months, Ms Reid said.

Family Works practice manager Deb Gelling said her organisation, part of Presbyterian Support Otago, had seen a record number of people requesting accommodation assistance, including some who were living in their vehicles.

"We assist people who are in a range of stressful living situations, including some who have been living in vehicles at times.

"We’ve seen a steady and record number of people requesting accommodation assistance this year."


I'm proud of the fact that Dunedin has taken in refugees over the past few years and found homes for them all and provided wraparound support services. However, there's something badly wrong with the system if this can happen while locals are living in cars, especially over winter. If homes can be found for dozens of refugees, then they should surely be available for the already homeless in our community. This isn't right.