Impact Stories

From Struggle to Stability: The Story of Peter Chan

Peter Chan, originally from South Sudan, arrived in New Zealand under the Refugee Quota Programme in 2005. Since 2007, he worked as a lifeguard at the Manurewa Pool and Leisure Centre under Manukau City Council and lived in a one-bedroom Kainga Ora house in South Auckland. Despite losing an arm in 1992 due to an artillery shell while serving in the military, he never let his disability impede his passion for swimming or his dedication to helping others. Peter took great pride in his work as a lifeguard.

Every year, he would travel overseas to visit his family back home. When Peter left New Zealand in December 2019, he did not expect that it would be years before he could return, and to no house or job. Although he’d planned his trip to only be over a span of four months, he was unable to return to New Zealand until July 2021 due to the Covid outbreak and all borders being closed. 

Before he left for his holiday, he said he had notified his local Work and Income office about his overseas trip. Peter had delegated his cousin, Victor, to take charge of his house in his absence. After Peter was informed by Victor about his rent arrears, Peter offered his close friend to take over his tenancy, unsure of when he would be able to go back to NZ. This required the tenancy agreement to be changed to list his friend as the new tenant. When Peter was informed about the new rental arrangement, he had agreed, trusting his best friend to temporarily take his house only for the sake of his absence. “I thought it was just temporary until I came back from my holiday. But when I returned in July 2021, I was told it was no longer my house.” 

When he arrived back in New Zealand, he went to the Kainga Ora Manukau office and met with his tenancy manager. He was told to wait for a reassessment of his situation and to live with his friend in his old house in the meantime. He lived with his friend for a while but had to leave after consistent disputes and many violent events, with police being involved multiple times. 

He was placed in emergency motels but he did not feel safe in these arrangements. It was in April 2022 when Peter first came to ARCC to ask for assistance with his housing situation. ARCC provided him a support letter to help his application. However, situations in his emergency motels were not improving and his safety was highly at risk. With nowhere else to go, he went to Abann as a last resort in April 2023. Peter stayed in Abann’s small garage, where he slept on the mattress on a concrete floor with random household items cramped in the small space. The only barrier against the cold were two thin roller doors. Peter lived in this condition for almost a year. 

As a result of Covid restrictions, Peter had lost not only his house, but also his job. His mental health during this time was deteriorating as he said, “Sometimes I don’t eat or sleep because I’m too worried about my wellbeing and future.” 

During his stay in Abann’s garage, Abann was an agent for Peter in his MSD application, actively advocating for his urgent need of a suitable home. In January 2024, we reached out to a Stuff News reporter and asked her to capture Peter’s story. Peter and the reporter from Stuff News came to our ARCC office and sat down for an interview. 

The story of Peter Chan was published on Stuff website a few weeks later. After it had been about a week, we received an email from the Stuff News reporter forwarding a message that a reader wanted to help Peter. It was from a family who used to see Peter weekly when he worked at the Manurewa Pools, and they wanted to offer Peter their one-bedroom flat that is attached to their house. 

When Faisal, our Support Worker, took Peter to view the flat, he said it was such a beautiful moment as the children of family were so happy to see Peter again after so many years.  Now, Peter feels safe and stable again after what felt like a decade of struggles and is ready to continue building a meaningful life. 

-Nina Hlawnceu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *