Tireless search leads to family

Our Wellbeing Team does more than connect people with services to sustain their tenancies.

They also help, when needed, when people pass away.

Wellbeing advisor Hannah searched for Cathy's next of kin.

Wellbeing advisor Hannah searched for Cathy’s next of kin.

Cathy’s* unit was dotted with plush toys and figurines. Jumbled on shelves and carefully placed on windowsills, they were the soft edges of a sometimes hard life.

Diminutive, funny and bristly, Cathy was a tenant at a property managed by Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust. She died in Christchurch Hospital after a short illness.

We know more about Cathy’s last few years than we know about the time between moving from a farm to council-owned housing in Christchurch in the mid-1990s.

In catchups with ŌCHT wellbeing advisors Trudi and Hannah over the past year, Cathy dropped hints about the life she led before she had anything to do with ŌCHT.

READ MORE: ŌCHT’s specialist teams

She was born in a rural South Island town and was adopted at birth by a farming couple. She loved the sheep and the outlook, but farming was not for her.

Cathy faced challenges early on. To tackle them, she was educated at a school for children with complex learning and social needs.

She was married and had a daughter. Their marriage ended and their daughter was raised by Cathy’s mother.

Mother and daughter maintained contact, on-and-off, and Cathy would eventually be grandmother to several grandchildren.

Cathy signed her first tenancy agreement with the Christchurch City Council in the mid-1990s. Single, she nominated a friend she met at a recovery programme as her next of kin. This was problematic later.

Years later, Cathy was supported by neighbour friend as ill-health took its toll. He helped her with groceries and took her for lunch and outings around the city.

Lending a hand

The ŌCHT wellbeing team had more to do with Cathy as she recovered from a series of personal traumas.

Hannah remembers 5ft-nothing Cathy as cheeky, funny and abrasive. She’d use the most colourful language available to tell you to go away before inviting you inside.

Trudi says she was “really gorgeous but really naughty”. On a bad day, she “biffed” her vacuum cleaner across the carpark; on a good day she let Trudi help her fix it.

Hannah and Trudi cut through the bluster to build a relationship with Cathy. They visited often, to be sure Cathy was okay.

Trudi was with Cathy when she visited her doctor, for tests to see whether her symptoms indicated dementia.

Cathy was not okay when Trudi and wellbeing advisor Rossi visited Cathy’s community last month. They found her slumped outside someone else’s unit, drifting in and out of consciousness.

They rushed to support her and Trudi called for an ambulance. She needed to be admitted to hospital.

Trudi could not contact Cathy’s supportive neighbour nor the next of kin she’d named in her tenancy application, so she nominated herself on the hospital paperwork.

As the nominated contact, she’d be told if Cathy turned for the worse over the weekend. Cathy died before the new week started.

Searching for family

It was sad news made sadder by the knowledge Cathy’s family might not known what had happened. Neither the police or hospital were able to contact her next of kin.

Hannah spent hours trawling ŌCHT files, calling contacts and searching the web for leads to find Cathy’s family. Hannah and Trudi knew she had a daughter, but they did not know her name.

Cathy’s friends did not know her name, either. Weeks passed before her neighbour friend told Hannah a woman at her previous complex might be able to help.

The woman had been in touch with Cathy’s daughter, years ago. She scrolled through her telephone contacts and found the half-remembered name.

Hannah found Cathy’s daughter on Facebook, as Cathy’s friend contacted her to say ŌCHT was looking for her.

She was shocked and sad, but grateful Hannah and Trudi had gone looking.

Cathy could now be mourned by her family and her ashes buried in a family grave. Her daughter has been in touch most days since she learned of her mother’s death.

Trudi says she shares happy stories of the mum she lost, and that ŌCHT helped when she needed it most.

Being prepared

  • Health and police officials usually let people know when family members pass away.
  • They usually either have details of the next of kin, or the means to track them down.
  • ŌCHT asks new tenants to nominate a next of kin when signing up with us.
  • ŌCHT uses next of kin details to help family or estates wind-up a person’s affairs.
  • As a landlord, ŌCHT isn’t the agency tasked with notifying family of a death.
  • We can help the relevant authorities contact next of kin if our help is requested.
  •  We urge tenants to keep their next of kin details up-to-date.



* Cathy is not our tenant’s real name. We’ve changed her name for privacy reasons. Her family consented to this story.


Published September 13, 2021

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Further reading

The Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust
61 Kilmore St,

Hours: 8.30 am-5.00 pm, Monday-Friday.

Postal: PO Box 53, Christchurch 8140

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