When Saleima and Ekueta Uilama moved into a state house in Northcote’s Tonar St it was “a really bad street”.
“You hear people fighting on the road. My kids can’t even sleep in the night time,” Mrs Uilama says.
Then in April last year five elderly women moved into a house built by the Bays Community Housing Trust on the next-door section where an old house had burned down. Suddenly the young people were quieter.
“Since they moved here there’s no more fighting, no more noise,” Mrs Uilama says. “The young people really respect the old people. It’s good that we have a place like that for the old ones, it makes me safe as well.”
The house, and another next door which opened later last year, are part of a flatting for seniors strategy by the housing trust to support older people who would otherwise feel isolated living alone.
“It’s reimagining your neighbourhood,” trust relationships manager Robyn Barry said. “It’s what community is about. It’s not about segregated groups of like-minded people getting together. It’s about diversity together.”
Kay McGregor, 74, one of the first residents, says the trust prepared well. “When we first went in, someone in the community pinched some of our stuff,” she says. “Within two days all of that stuff was back because the trust worked hard. They had open days, barbecues, so the community would get used to having us there.”
The women make a point of engaging with their neighbours.
“One Tongan lady takes her children to the school as dressed up as you can. I reached out and said, ‘You do a wonderful job taking your children to school’,” Mrs McGregor says. “So now we are smiling.”
Margaret Castle, 75, says she always says hello to groups of youths. “I make a point of acknowledging them so they don’t think I’m a silly old fart.”
Mrs McGregor plays cards at the local community house Onepoto Awhina. Mrs Castle attends a multi-agency group that meets there. The house’s community worker takes another woman from the trust houses to the shops and hospital appointments. The women have also volunteered to mentor young people at a community garden being set up at the local library.
Just having them there means the Uilama family, who are from Tuvalu, can stay longer when they visit Mrs Uilama’s parents in West Auckland.
“We used to stay there only a few hours and come back because I don’t trust kids breaking into the house.”